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Parallel columns, parallel Churches?

In the eighth and last paragraph of Lumen gentiums first chapter, "The Mystery of the Church," attention shifts to ask where the Church that was given its basic and central theological description in the first seven paragraph is to be found. Before providing the Catholic answer to that question, the Council made an important point, one which I think sets out the fundamental challenge of ecclesiology. It presents, as if in parallel columns, distinct dimensions of the Church, as here:community of faith, hope & love // visible structuremystical Body of Christ // hierarchical societyspiritual community // visible assemblyendowed with heavenly gifts // earthlyholy // always needing to be purifiedThe Council insisted that these sets of characteristics do not describe two realities, two Churches, but a single reality, a single Church, that is comprised of a divine and a human element. It then cautiously offered "a not middling analogy" with the mystery of the Incarnation. As in christology, however, there is a great temptation not only to distinguish but to separate these elements of an integral ecclesiology. One sees it when an opposition is stated or implied between conceiving or imagining the Church as mystery or communion and as People of God, or when Avery Dulles five ways of thinking about the Church are hardened into five ways of being the Church, or when people speak of "the institutional Church" as if it were something apart from them or apart from the spiritual communion.Five decades ago, James Gustafson published a little book Treasure in Earthen Vessels: The Church as a Human Community. He aimed it at what he thought was a common tendency in Protestant ecclesiology that he described as "theological reductionism," that is, "the exclusive use of Biblical and doctrinal language in the interpretation of the Church," this done, on "the explicit or tacit assumption that the Church is so absolutely unique in character that it can be understood only in its own private language." Gustafson offered an analysis of the Church as a human, natural, political community, a community of language, interpretation, memory and understanding, belief and action. Throughout he made use of a method that instead of beginning with what is unique and transcendent about the Church begins with what it has in common with other human communities in order to discover what is unique about it.Gustafson once told me that some Protestants reacted by wondering if he was about to become a Roman Catholic. Catholic ecclesiology at the time, after all, so concentrated on the human aspects of the Church, particularly its institutional character, that the theological aspects were largely neglected. I sometimes think that since Vatican II Catholics have so emphasized the theological elements as to be in danger of falling into the theological reductionism Gustafson was trying to counter. In any case, the danger of separating the unique and transcendent elements from the common and quite human elements continues to exist.

About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.



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We say (Hebrews, I think) that Jesus was like us in everything but sin. Should we say that the church is like all other human societies except for sin? What about the response that the church is also a church of sinners? We might then say that members of the church may sin but the church itself does not sin. But is that because the church is not an agent? Can a society properly be an agent?There are similar issues with Scripture. Scripture does teach, and it teaches without error, But not every proposition that must be attributed to a human author of scripture on the basis of what he has written is true. How is this possible? I think one short answer is canonical criticism.

It is striking to see how huge a role human communities -- notably the families of Abraham and of David -- play in the economy of scriptural revelation. The Bible often seems more concerned about Rachel's or Hannah's childlessness, the reconciliation of Jacob and Esau, the troubles between David and his sons, that about transcendent mysteries. Even the New Testament keeps recalling these families and their descendants. So it cannot be wrong to make as much as possible of the church as human community, in the most ordinary sense. Coming together for coffee after worship, keeping posted on one another's needs, etc., is the sort of thing churchhood is about -- "wherever two or three are gathered". The institutional church is dysfunctional when it fails to subserve this.

"There are similar issues with Scripture. Scripture does teach, and it teaches without error, But not every proposition that must be attributed to a human author of scripture on the basis of what he has written is true. How is this possible? I think one short answer is canonical criticism.Prof. Gannon --t seems to me that that question can't be answered until we face the extraordinarily ambiguous meanings of the term "the Bible". As I see it, the first issue that has to be addressed is the ambiguity of the word "book". What is "a book"? IS there only one Bible? In what sense is "Sacred Scripture/the Bible" *one* book/the Book of the Lord ?? Who is/are the author/authors of the Bible? What about the different interpretations of "the" original texts?? What about the intended meanings of the writers who first put pen to paper/papyrus/whatever? (And these questions don't even get into the problem of the many physical copies of "it' (singular).)Before I got interested in the Bible I did my master's dissertation on this very fundamentall question: what is a book? What is the ontological status of "a book" or poem? I won't go into my answer there, but my definition these days is: a book is a set of sets [yes, a set of sets] of symbols plus a set of sets of the many meanings/ interpretations of those symbols, including the primary meaning(s), that is, the meaning(s) of the author of the text. So "a" book includes the original text and the author's meaning(s) plus all the copies of that text plus the interpretions of those texts. And it is most important to note that those many texts are not always assigned the same meanings. In other words, there are many "The Wasteland"s, including the primary meaning (Eliot's) plus all the other interpretations of the texts by critics and other readers of "the" poem. They, of course, differ from reader to reader. Different readings of instances of the text are only analogous readings, and we might says that "The Wasteland" is a set of analogous readings of the written texts.So what about the Bible? Well, your Bible is in all probability very different from my Bible (though they might be consistent.) Same with different interpretations throughout the ages. I would say that the Holy Spirit is the primary author, with the *writers* of the physical symbols being those who put pen to paper in attempts to record the meanings of the HOly Spirit. For non-scripture the author and the writer are usually the same person. Aquinas said that there are as many truths (true interpretations) to be found in the Bible as there are possible true interpretations. In other words, the Bible "it"self is ambiguous! So some of the ambiguity is constituted by the many meanings intended by the Holy Spirit, and even for the Holy Spirit there are many Bibles! But I would also say that some of the meanings are those of the *writers* whose intended meanings might or might not be true. It is the function of the exegetes to discover what the Holy Spirit's meanings are. Therein lies the worst problem of exegesis: which meanings are God's? and which are only the writer's?)

I should have said somewhere above that the simplest meaning of "a book" is "a text plus an interpretation", while a complex meaning of "a book" is "a set of sets of text plus meaning".

Father Komonchak,I have no doubt that the fault is mine, but I'm confused. Can you provide an example of something or someone manifesting "the danger of separating the unique and transcendent elements from the common and quite human elements"? Where does this come up? How do I recognize it? Thanks for the clarifications.

The beauty of the faith is that the Holy Spirit will go where s/he will. Even many Protestants welcome the pope as a unifying person of Christians. The trouble comes when the hieararchy does what it wills without following humility in the gospel and with others when they attribute to the spirit their abuses. Jesus guided by giving us the great formula: "By their fruits you will know them."Jesus gave us another criteria: "Whoever does the will of God is my sister, brother and mother." This is why the discusion here is so important about adulation. Adulation absolves leaders of responsibility and accountablility. A most devastating practice.

One of the things one has to accept in starting a thread is that there is no guarantee that comments on it are going to have anything much to do with it. I suppose that Joseph Gannon's comment links with the Council's description of the Church as at once holy and always in need of purification. Joseph O'Leary's is on point. except I don't understand why he put his final point in terms of "the institutional Church" when I should have thought it applied simply to "the Church." Ann Olivier raises legitimate questions, but ones peripheral to the conciliar text on which I built. Bill Mazzella doesn't make a connection with this thread but with an earlier thread.Matt Emerson does raise a question about what I wrote. I see examples of what I warn against when people speak of the Church on earth as already "without spot or wrinkle"; when they say that "the Church herself is without sin but not without sinners"; when they speak of the Church as a single historical subject whose life knows no ruptures; when no effort is made to relate the grand theological and spiritual descriptions of the Church to the actually existing communities of believers. One criterion: Of every statement about the Church it is legitimate to ask: Of whom, in whom, is this true? The Church is not something apart from its members.

AnnThe "Bible" is only grammatically singular by accident in modern languages, in Greek and Latin "biblia" is a plural, so, for example, the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia" must be a plural because of the form "Stuttgartensia". So the Bible is the books, a collection of works of various literary forms. One could ask whether it is best considered a collection of inspired books or an inspired collection of books, and I think Raymond Brown poses that question somewhere but, as I recall, he does not answer it. In either case, it seems to me, the attribute of unity arises from that of inspiration. But the point about "Bible" being in origin a plural apart, I am inclined to agree with much of what you say.Fr. K.A subtle and complex post is likely to provoke disparate and perhaps tangential reactions, but they may best be seen as both compliments and complements to the original. I am struck by this point you make "The Church is not something apart from its members." I'm inclined to agree, and I think my comment rather suggests that.

Fr. Komonchak,Aristotle repeatedly called into question Plato's theory of forms in a similar way, it seems to me, that you are calling into question an excessive abstraction of the Church. Aristotle believed strongly in the formal cause, but thought that the forms are instantiated and do not exist apart from substances.Thomas modifies this Aristotilean teaching. He says that forms do have a separate existence, in God's mind. The difference, as I see it, is that for Thomas the world has a creator. Much like the form of a house pre-exists the house in the mind of a carpenter, so creatures pre-exist their instantiation, in the mind of the Creator.I have two questions regarding the claim "Of every statement about the Church it is legitimate to ask: Of whom, in whom, is this true?" My questions have to do with time. The eschatological destiny of the Church is to be without spot or wrinkle. In the mind of God, isn't the destiny of an individual or of the Church "already" present? If so, doesn't this affect even the temporal reality? Simul justus et peccator--doesn't what is true in this claim derive from the mysterious relationship that salvation has with time? We are confident, as St. Paul says, or as St. Augustine says, how can I sing when every day I say, forgive us our trespasses? And yet let us, let all men, sing Alleluia. Sing but keep going.Secondly, the Church as a temporal reality does not seem to me to be only on earth at this present time, because it is present, so to speak, in those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. Generations past, generations future--all of these (unless I'm mistaken about this) are also the Church. This means the titular sees, for example, are in some way real Churches, even though I cannot point to a living member of that local church.(I'm a ways out of my depth here, so pardon me if I'm saying anything too pointedly.)

Father,Thanks for the clarifications -- I hope you don't mind me asking for more. Why do you think today's Catholics have tended to emphasize the theological elements at the expense of the human? Where do you think this tendency predominates? In academia? Among lay men and women? Both?

Fr. K - am struck more by the last 150 years and the tendency of the "church" to define and interpret itself along the lines of: institution/hierarchy/visible assembly that is also holy because it is an institution guided by the magisterium - hierarchy.Even with Vatican II's input, the parallel church seems to have suffered in terms of a balance between your parallel images. Even as the church becomes larger and more focused in the southern hemisphere, the movement towards centralization, focus on the papacy/curia/Rome, and control of the people of God and theologians, religious communities, etc. seems to continue to grow.I totally agree - that any understanding of church can not be apart from its members. Yet, look at current trends - the meeting of the Irish bishops on sexual abuse (very limited lay involvement despite the three Irish reports); the phasing in of a New Missal (with very little lay input or, in your parallel categories, mystical body of Christ/spiritual community; the new movements that are only permitted and sanctioned as papal prelatures; the lack of implementation of collegiality or subsidiarity as concepts ressourcement rediscovered.Have the same questions as Mr. Emerson above.

Prof. Gannon --You say, " So the Bible is the books, a collection of works of various literary forms. Yes, it is that. But each of those supposedly single books is also a collection of single-texts- plus-single-interpretations. So "the" Bible is a collection (set) of those sets of individual texts plus their individual interpretations. Complexity, complexity, complexity, complexity, . . . , . . . , . . .

Prof. Gannon --By the way, similar problems of identifying "the" authoritative meaning(s) of a book arise with respect to "The Documents of Vatican II". But they are compounded in that case because there were many authors of those documents, and apparently not all the authors gave the words the same meanings. Hermeneutics has to be one of the most frustrating disciplines in the world!

In "The power and the glory" the people who come across the fugitive priest are aware that he is "a bad priest", a drunkard who has fathered a child, yet, once he's there they are eager to receive the sacraments from him. Is it two realities: they want to see him in his functions as a priest in spite of his personal failings, that are separate from his holy, mysterious role -- or is it a single reality: his weaknesses are an integral part of him as a priest?

This is my reference in Thomas:"I answer that It is necessary to suppose ideas in the divine mind. For the Greek word Idea is in Latin "forma." Hence by ideas are understood the forms of things, existing apart from the things themselves. Now the form of anything existing apart from the thing itself can be for one of two ends: either to be the type of that of which it is called the form, or to be the principle of the knowledge of that thing, inasmuch as the forms of things knowable are said to be in him who knows them. In either case we must suppose ideas, as is clear for the following reason: In all things not generated by chance, the form must be the end of any generation whatsoever. But an agent does not act on account of the form, except in so far as the likeness of the form is in the agent, as may happen in two ways. For in some agents the form of the thing to be made pre-exists according to its natural being, as in those that act by their nature; as a man generates a man, or fire generates fire. Whereas in other agents (the form of the thing to be made pre-exists) according to intelligible being, as in those that act by the intellect; and thus the likeness of a house pre-exists in the mind of the builder. And this may be called the idea of the house, since the builder intends to build his house like to the form conceived in his mind. As then the world was not made by chance, but by God acting by His intellect, as will appear later (46, 1), there must exist in the divine mind a form to the likeness of which the world was made. And in this the notion of an idea consists." (ST Ia.15.1)This is an interesting passage in Rahner, which though not quite on point re: the mystery of time in salvation, and which I think goes too far in disregarding the possibility of meritorious action, still begins to discuss a Catholic approach to uniting the "two columns," at least in terms of personal salvation:" The Reformation formula of the simul justus et peccator--if only the factors of a Catholic 'no' to this formula remain clear--has a perfectly positive meaning for Christian existence. The Catholic Christian especially should not interpret himself as the 'good man' who basically and really, unless he steals silver spoons or poisons his neighbour, lives from the very start as a good man in grace, so that, as modern sentiment often maintains, it is really God who must justify himself before man and explain why there is so much suffering, darkness and confusion in the history of the world. The Christian must have understood that of himself he is nothing but sin. Wherever he discovers something good in himself, he must acknowledge it as a causeless free grace of God. Hence even the Catholic Christian should not spread out his justice before God. He should rather from day to day accept his justice, which in fact divinises him, as an! unmerited gift of God's incalculable favour. If he wants to express this by saying that he is always and of himself a poor sinner and always someone justified by God's grace as long as he does not close himself to this grace of God by disbelief and lack of love, then he is quite at liberty to do so. Even Catholics like St. Theresa of the Child Jesus have done this. When they ared to stand before the countenance of God, they came of and for themselves with empty hands and confessed themselves like St. Augusting to be sinners. In this consciousness of their own sinfulness they discovered in themselves that miracle which means that God fills our hands with his glory and makes our heart overflow with love and faith. Anyone who confesses that of himself he is a sinner, experiences precisely in this that grace of God which really and truly makes him a saint and a just man. Then God absolves him from all sin so that he is really and in truth, to the last root of his being, a holy, just and blessed child of God." Karl Rahner, Theological Investigations vol. VI, trans. Karl-H. and Boniface Kruger (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1974), 229-230.

"The Church is not something apart from its members." One of the things I take Kathy to be concerned about is that the members of the Church include the blessed in heaven (LG, chapter 7), with the Blessed Virgin Mary as privileged member (LG, chapter 8).I share JAK's concern regarding "theological reductionism;" and I well recall his enthusiasm for Gustafson's book those many long years ago at Dunwoodie.But I wonder whether he also sees the problem of a "congregationalist reductionism" if LG 26 is read in abstraction from the rest of Lumen Gentium -- indeed, in abstraction even from chapter 3 in which it appears.I hasten to say, of course, that he does not do so. But I am speaking of tendencies of the sort he expresses in the last sentence of the post."Two or three gathered" (Father O'Leary's comment) do not yet Catholic ecclesiology make.

Perhaps "two or three gathered in my name" makes the core and pith of a biblical ecclesiology?

Ah, Father O'Leary,"in my name!" -- we're moving in the right (dare I say "orthodox") direction. Buon Carnevale!

Ann: You might look at the lengthy sophisticated text issued some years ago by the Pontifical Biblical Commission on "The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church." You can find it online at: that with the texts of the same Commission from the beginning of the 20th century-- you will see illustrated the difficulties that body had in coming to terms with modern biblical scholarship.

Claire: I think your question arises also with regard to any Christian, who is holy in virtue of God's grace but if he says that he is without sin, he deceives himself, and the truth is not in him (see 1 Jn 1:8, a text that Augustine constantly quoted against those who claimed that the Church on earth could claim to be "without stain or wrinkle"--Aquinas echoed him on the point). Now our own sinfulness is something we have to admit if the truth is to be in us, but that one should speak of this as "an integral part" of our being a Christian strikes me as odd; our sinfulness is our failure to be a Christian. Similarly, in the case of Greene's whiskey priest: the people know him to be a sinner, yet accept him as a priest and want his ministrations, but should we say that his sin is "an integral part" of his being a priest? I think I see your point, but struggle to find the appropriate way of expressing it. I remain impressed by Augustine's and Aquinas's description (definition?) of sin as absence of meaning and value.

Kathy: With regard to your first question, whether the destiny of an individual or of the Church isnt already present (you dont say where) because of Gods foreknowledge of it. But Gods foreknowledge is not temporally prior to our temporal reality or to its realization that is future to us but not to God. The same thing is true of the divine ideas, which are metaphysically but not temporally prior to their realization.I dont quite understand the relevance of the simul justus et peccator theme to my claim that we should always ask of whom, in whom, is a statement about the Church true. On the second point, the communion that is at the heart of the Church extends backward to all the holy ones who have gone before, upwards, if you will, to the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem who are already singing the new song of salvation, and forward to those who will come after us. Here is Augustine on the point: The house of God is all the believers, not only those who now exist, but also those who were before us and have fallen asleep, and those who will be after us, those who have still to be born until the end of the world, innumerable believers gathered into one, numbered by the Lord, however, about whom the Apostle says: The Lord knows who are his own (2 Tm 2:19); those grains which now groan among the chaff, which are to form a single mass, when at the end there is a winnowing (Mt 3:12); the whole number of holy believers, who are to be changed from being men to being equal to the Angels of God, to be joined with the Angels who now do not wander but await us when we return from our wandering; all of us together make one house of God, and one city (En. in Ps. 126, 3).

Bill de Haas: You pose quite legitimate and pressing questions about the proper institutionalizing of the Church communion. In an understandable reaction to the over-emphasis on institutional questions, and especially on the distribution of power within the Church, some theologians so stressed the unique and transcendent elements of the Church as almost to make people forget that the Church on earth consists of people, 99% of them lay people. More than one commentator has pointed out that it was a failure on the part of Vatican II that it did not devote more attention to the institutions that are needed in order to realize the grand theological vision. Some of the invoications of "koinonia" seem to me efforts to blow a spiritual fog across the Church so that the hard questions about its actual realization will not be raised, the sharp edges smoothed. It's like a dysfunctional family that might sit down to a long-overdue conversation about itself; just when things start to get painful, one of the members is almost certain to say: "Oh, please, let's not forget that we're a family! And that we really love each other!"

Fr. Komonchak,I believe you suggested the simul justus et peccator theme: "When people speak of the Church on earth as already without spot or wrinkle; when they say that the Church herself is without sin but not without sinners;"I wonder if we disagree on whether and how the mind of God is a real place.

Bob Imbelli: Yes, there can be a danger of "congregationalist reductionism", as when people forget that to be a Church is to be in communion with all the other Churches within the universal communion of which the Bishop of Rome is a visible principle of unity. Larry Cunningham on another thread usefully recalled the importance of the commemoration of the local bishop and of the pope in our central thanksgiving prayer.That said, I agree with Louis Bouyer when he criticizes a certain modern view of the Church that sees it as a sort of enormous apparatus of global reach, a Gesellschaft destined to establish branch offices everywhere, which for this purpose would deploy a centripetal network for systematic evangelization, so as little by little to set up a chain of cultic or charity stations. Against a view to which modern ecclesiology often approximated, Bouyer went on:"St. Peter did not found the Church by rushing right away to Rome, as to the center of the ancient world, in order to establish there a network of committees that might then methodically implant their subsidiaries throughout the universe. He founded the Church, on Pentecost, by announcing the risen Christ to those around him, by himself baptizing or having his apostolic collaborators baptize those who came to believe, by having them share in the first celebrations of the eucharistic banquet, and by thus involving them in a common life of thanksgiving and of charity. The Church of all times and all places was founded, then, in a first local Church, the Church of Jerusalem, and it has been propagated from then on in other local Churches, similar to it, as if by cutting and planting."Against the modern view, Bouyer insisted that the Church proceeds from essentially local communities and, truly speaking, has never had actual existence except in them: in Gemeinschaften where concrete people concretely live a common life of shared faith, of unanimous prayer, of communion in praise and charity. Everything else in the Church is only in the service of these communities and has no real spiritual existence except in their actual life. Bouyer suggests that Catholic ecclesiology could learn from Congregationalists who deny to the Church any existence apart from the concrete congregations in which believers come together to hear the Word, to pray, to celebrate the Lords Supper, and thus to be involved in a life, indissolubly communal and personal, of faith and charity. These are the persons and the communities "quibus constat Ecclesia," to use Augustines phrase, in whom the Church consists. An ontology of the Church requires study of the subjectivity by which a person becomes a Christian through faith, hope and love and of the inter-subjectivity by which believers are brought together as assemblies. There is no suprapersonal entity above and apart from these believers and their assemblies. The Ecclesia universa is the communion of all such believers and their assemblies, and this communion is an event within a shared consciousness, the communion that results from or, rather, consists in, the common faith, hope and love that Gods word and grace enable and effect.

Kathy: Yes, I know that I raised the "simul justus et peccator" theme, but not in connection with the question to which you seemed to me to be relating it: that of my claim that we should ask of whom, in whom, statements about the Church must be verified.If you think that God's mind is a "place," then we do disagree. Could you explain what "place" means here?

For Aristotle, a place is pretty much like a lawyer's definition of a condominium unit: the innermost motionless boundary of what contains. Things exist in a place. A place is where a thing exists.

Thanks, Fr. K. In opinion, the just released statement from Rome about Ireland is an excellent example of a dysfunctional family that is in crisis; sits down to meet; but at the conclusion, merely states the same old, same old.

Kathy:Even less than the human mind can the divine mind be considered a place. Aquinas followed Boethius in maintaining that incorporeal beings do not exist in places; they contain rather than are contained (see STh !a, q. 8, aa. 1 and 2. He also maintained that "an idea in God is nothing other than the essence of God" (STh 1a, q. 15, a. 2, ad 3m). It is imprecise, leads to confusion, to say that God's idea of Alexander's horse or his idea of Kathleen Pluth exists prior to the existence of Bucephalus or of Kathy. You seem to be reifying ideas: what can it mean to speak even of a human idea as the sort of thing that can exist in a "place"?

I think Bill D. is right and that discsssions of philosophy will not solve the problem of what is already beginning to exiast in fact - parallel churches within the Church - one more traditional and emphasizing the institutional things Bil talks about, the other more concerned with what it views as more Christ like in behaviour with less emphasis on the magisterial and canonical.Those in the latter group are on their way to further drift as the US heirerachy and the next generation of clergy (and their supporters) emphasize the former.Calls to "come back" as Lent starts may attract some to the former, but I think the gap is widening - the final statement from Rome of the Irish Bishops meeting with the Pope thereundescores the provlem of folks seeing too many nice words and pious thoughts and insufficient action and bridging of gaps. That divide is often widened in the grown world of blogdom where vitriol is often the way of doing comunication.So I think the the notion of dysfunctional family fits the "spotless bride" even if we are moving, lurching, sometime going backwards to the final times of oneness.At this point, I do not see that we're moving forward towards accepting and building on the tensions noted in LG.

The "parallel Churches" to which Bill de Haas and Bob Nunz refer are, of course, not precisely what the Council's parallel columns set out, distinguishing in order to unite (to borrow the title of Jacques Maritain's famous book). The Council was concerned that all the elements be kept in mind in order to develop an integral ecclesiology. In this paragraph it was not concerned, say, with the proper articulation of authority and responsibility in the Church, which it sets out in later chapters. In paragraph 8 of Lumen gentium, it was concerned that the grand theological vision set out in the previous paragraphs not be thought to describe some unreal Church, off somewhere in the empyrean, but a real Church, existing and active on the earth.

"Against the modern view, Bouyer insisted that the Church proceeds from essentially local communities and, truly speaking, has never had actual existence except in them: in Gemeinschaften where concrete people concretely live a common life of shared faith, of unanimous prayer, of communion in praise and charity. Everything else in the Church is only in the service of these communities and has no real spiritual existence except in their actual life. Bouyer suggests that Catholic ecclesiology could learn from Congregationalists who deny to the Church any existence apart from the concrete congregations in which believers come together to hear the Word, to pray, to celebrate the Lords Supper, and thus to be involved in a life, indissolubly communal and personal, of faith and charity. These are the persons and the communities quibus constat Ecclesia, to use Augustines phrase, in whom the Church consists. An ontology of the Church requires study of the subjectivity by which a person becomes a Christian through faith, hope and love and of the inter-subjectivity by which believers are brought together as assemblies. There is no suprapersonal entity above and apart from these believers and their assemblies."it's striking to consider Bouyer's vision of what the church is, up against the reality that so many Catholics have just drifted away from the church, as though the church is this large, impersonal force to which they have nothing to contribute, and as though - which again seems all too real - their absence is neither noted nor felt. What if we could somehow make one another really believe that Bouyer's description is the true one - that the church "happens" when we come together, and that if some of us are missing, then the church is different and the worse for it.

"The Ecclesia universa is the communion of all such believers and their assemblies, and this communion is an event within a shared consciousness, the communion that results from or, rather, consists in, the common faith, hope and love that Gods word and grace enable and effect."This makes sense. I am amazed how confused we can get over a simple topic. There is something amiss when we have so much trouble agreeing on what is church. Can we just agree on the sentence above?

Thanks, Fr. K for this post. I did go back to look at the First Chapter of Lumen Gentium to get the immediate context of the passage you outline.. Several times in the elaborate and lengthy theological section there are brief references to the way the Church strains toward the completed Kingdom or is here in a foreign land, on pilgrimage. But it is only in that last section that the concrete historical manifestation of the Church in this world gets sufficient attention. I love the ending:The Church, "like a stranger in a foreign land, presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God"(14*), announcing the cross and death of the Lord until He comes."(84) By the power of the risen Lord it is given strength that it might, in patience and in love, overcome its sorrows and its challenges, both within itself and from without, and that it might reveal to the world, faithfully though darkly, the mystery of its Lord until, in the end, it will be manifested in full light. Faithfully though darkly hits home . Thanks also for your comment at 9:16 on the spiritual fog invoked by a solely transcendent view of the Church that can so effectively disable discourse. Combine that with a bureaucratic mentality, and we are really in trouble:According to the Vatican press release on the Irish Bishops meeting with the Pope, they told him that while there is no doubt that errors of judgment and omissions stand at the heart of the crisis, significant measures have now been taken to ensure the safety of children and young people. We are supposed to take particular comfort in their plan to adopt best practices. (The press release is available from Rocco. The devil is in the details, as ever)

I look at this from a different perspective, as a catechist for the rcia. The actual, human church is pretty obviously present, and the concern is to help people become aware of the role of God in the Church. So I speak theologically, trying to raise awareness of God's activity in our lives. The height of the manifestation of the Church is the Eucharist, not a plenary session of the world's bishops. At Baptism, the skies open up and God declares this is my Beloved.I tend to stay with that mindset, which may be why people are sometimes perplexed by things I say. (one young classmate once exasperatedly asked me "What world do you live in?") The theology is grounded in earthly reality. Baptism is about the rite for a friend's son, not a generic event, from which I generalize. The Eucharist is probably made up of a blur of celebrations I have attended, but then they are all one Eucharist. So I keep an answer to "who is the Church?" in mind.So a focus on theology is not the same in all cases, or rather, a focus on God. I am sure I go too far sometimes, but I try to always keep the earthly, hierarchical, visible in mind. That after all is how God communicates with us.This sounds defensive, but is not meant to be. I am just trying to explain why a focus on the God part of the church can be useful in particular situations.

Bill, if we all agree on the text, will we all agree on text + interpretation?

The trick in resolving the two parallel Churches is to bring the operations of the Church into line with the theological reality of community, not to bring the community into line with the existing divine right monarchy, which seems to be the intent of Rome today.Ladislas Orsy makes this point in his wonderful book Receiving the Council: The bishops at Vatican II ... stated that the church was first and foremost a communion, communio, a union of persons in a unique sense--created by the Spirit of Christ. ... The one Spirit of Christ dwells in many and holds them together. Briefly but substantially, this is the theological reality of communio. All external manifestations of unity, such as collegiality and solidarity, flow from it. (p. 4,5) This spiritual communio is an ontological reality and the origin and prototype of any other communio in the church. It is not a hypothesis; it is not an opinion. It belongs to the core of Catholic doctrine. (p. 6-7)Given these theological realities and what the modern world has learned about how to run organizations, it seems the faithful are obligated to bring church governance kicking and screaming into the new millennium for the precise reason of enabling it to do the job it was put here to do.

Fr. K,I'm pretty sure that ST Ia.8.1-2 actually underline my point. Boethius is quoted in the objection, and Thomas says "Hence also God is in things containing them; nevertheless, by a certain similitude to corporeal things, it is said that all things are in God; inasmuch as they are contained by Him."I don't believe in an ideal plane. But when Aristotle says that "the mind is the place of forms" (De Anima 3:4), this makes sense to me. The mind abstracts the forms, which are instantiated and have real existence in matter/form composites.I suspect that it is different with the idea of me or whomever as we exist in God's mind. God is the one Creator--as things are in His mind, that is how they really are.

In a study done by the Pew forum, people in the church said that they believe in God and Jesus but not in the hierarchy. That might be a great definition of the church and a damning indictment of the hierarchy.

Kathy: So God contains and is not contained, and so to speak of God or of his mind as a "place" is only rough analogy if "place" is defined as what contains.You write at the end: "I suspect that it is different with the idea of me or whomever as we exist in Gods mind. God is the one Creatoras things are in His mind, that is how they really are. "I'm not sure I understand this. What does "really are" mean in the last sentence? Existent in the mind of God? Existent both in the mind of God and in the created world? Is there a difference between what things are in God's mind and what things are in the created world?In any case, what does your view entail or imply with regard to ecclesiology?

Yes, Bill -people look to the Church to find Christ through all His sacred mysteries and the Spiri the promised and sent.They, in the numbers who have not drifted, find it in the Eucharist, butf requently enough on their own terms.Pious thoughts and teachings that do not resonate don't bring them to the Christ they're looking for, worse yet, the current continuing scandals and attempts at damage control about it also undernmine finding Christ.As I tried to say above, finally, there is the deepening divide -often marked by less than loving words and actions which will continue, I fear, distance many.Jeanne has the right idea, but it's probably a long shot.

An important decision was made at Vatican II when it was decided to compose a chapter on the Church as the People of God and to place it right after the one on the Church as Mystery. As with all changes in the text, the Doctrinal Commission supplied an explanation. Since the two chapters are often counterposed, as if one had to choose between seeing the Church as Mystery and seeing it as People of God, I thought it might be good to present what the Doctrinal Commission had to say about the two chapters and the relationship between them. What follows is my translation:"'People of God' does not here mean the flock of the faithful as distinct from the hierarchy, but the whole complex of all, both of Pastors and of the faithful, who belong to the Church.1) A presentation on "the People of God" in fact belongs to the very mystery of the Church considered in itself. This material, whose biblical importance is quite clear and a presentation of which is fervently awaited by many of the Fathers and of the faithful, cannot be separated from the fundamental statements about the inner nature and purpose of the Church. If, however, this material were to be put back into Chapter I, the chapter would grow to excessive length.2) If it is true that the in one respect the hierarchy precedes the faithful whom it begets into faith and supernatural life, it still remains that Pastors and the faithful belong to one People. In God's plan, this People and its salvation are of the order of ends, while the hierarchy is related to this end as a means. The People must first be considered in its totality to make more clear both the role of the Pastors, who offer the means of salvation to the faithful, and the vocation and obligation of the faithful, who, aware of their personal responsibility, must collaborate with the Pastors in the spreading and further sanctification of the whole Church.3) But if there were first a discussion of the Mystery of the Church, then of the hierarchy, and thirdly of the People of God, the single subject of the nature and purpose of the Church would be divided into parts, separated from one another by the treatment of the hierarchy. A better structure, therefore, demands that the discussion begin with the group itself and all the persons within it and only then address the various categories, that is, the hierarchy and subjects, religious and laity. Bishops, presbyters, and the religious belong themselves to the People of God. This chapter, therefore, is in no way a treatment only of the laity.4) A more suitable distribution of the material will be had if Chapter I discusses the Mystery of the Church in all its dimensions from the beginning of creation in the plan of God until its consummation in heaven. Chapter II then considers the same Mystery insofar as, "between the times," that is, between the Ascension of the Lord and his glorious Parousia, it advances towards its blessed goal. All the elements treated in Chapter II refer to the life of the Church during this intermediate period: that is, its worship life on earth through the exercise of the universal priesthood (to which clerics also belong), through the practice of the sacraments, through the spreading of the witness to the faith, until the vision is attained.5) It will be easier to find a place to present the unity of the Church in its catholic variety, for example, between clergy, religious, and laity, moving towards the same goal; between the whole Church and the particular Churches with their legitimate differences; between the western and eastern traditions of the one Church; between the various cultures and characteristics of the peoples which the one Church gladly acknowledges and defends.6) A more correct perspective is provided for the discussion of Catholics, non-Catholic Christians, and all men and women (see the previous nos. 8-10), and particularly for developing the teaching on "the missions" until the eschatological goal of perfect consummation is attained."

Fr. Komonchak,If I'm right, a from-above ecclesiology makes more sense than a from-below ecclesiology. I think it's possible to overemphasize the concreteness that makes sense to us, which has a strong sociological aspect, while underemphasizing the concreteness that actually is, which is present in the mind of God.I think this error is often made when considering the Church as holy, for example.

Kathy: I don't understand your distinction between "the concreteness that makes sense to us" and "the concreteness that actually is, which is present in the mind of God." Not having access to how things are in the mind of God, I can't really compare these two. Since I suspect you don't have that access either, I wonder what you are comparing or contrasting here. And if we don't know how the concrete Church is in the mind of God, what consequence can this have for ecclesiology?By the way, in my view an ecclesiology from above is an ecclesiology from below, since the Church comes to be at the intersection of divine and human will. It is fatal to require a choice between them

My recollection of Aquinas is that existence is a result of Gods thinking. God's knowledge is not just like God watching reality and following everything that's going on. For Aquinas, God thinks in a certain way, and because of that thought, voila, we exist. By God's thinking about form, the universe exists and some out of all possible forms are instantiated in being. In other words, God thinks, therefore I am. This has many wonderful implications, not just for ecclesiology but for what we commonly (and often dismissively) refer to as "the secular world."

Thanks to JAK for these remarkable Bouyer quotes: The Church proceeds from essentially local communities and, truly speaking, has never had actual existence except in them: in Gemeinschaften where concrete people concretely live a common life of shared faith, of unanimous prayer, of communion in praise and charity. Everything else in the Church is only in the service of these communities and has no real spiritual existence except in their actual life. Catholic ecclesiology could learn from Congregationalists who deny to the Church any existence apart from the concrete congregations in which believers come together to hear the Word, to pray, to celebrate the Lords Supper, and thus to be involved in a life, indissolubly communal and personal, of faith and charity. These are the persons and the communities quibus constat Ecclesia, to use Augustines phrase, in whom the Church consists. An ontology of the Church requires study of the subjectivity by which a person becomes a Christian through faith, hope and love and of the inter-subjectivity by which believers are brought together as assemblies. There is no suprapersonal entity above and apart from these believers and their assemblies. The Ecclesia universa is the communion of all such believers and their assemblies, and this communion is an event within a shared consciousness, the communion that results from or, rather, consists in, the common faith, hope and love that Gods word and grace enable and effect."I think it is significant that Bouyer was a convert from Protestantism. The congregational experience of churchhood seems to me to be more vibrant and accessible for Protestants than it is for most Catholics. Indeed, this may be the main reason for Catholics conversions to Protestantism and Anglicanism.The ardent Catholic bloggers go on and on about the wonders of Rome and the Papacy. But rarely do they testify to lived experience of the church as community.

Joe,thank you for the Doctrinal Commission's report which I find useful. The following point is germane, I think, to correct a widespread misconception:3) But if there were first a discussion of the Mystery of the Church, then of the hierarchy, and thirdly of the People of God, the single subject of the nature and purpose of the Church would be divided into parts, separated from one another by the treatment of the hierarchy. A better structure, therefore, demands that the discussion begin with the group itself and all the persons within it and only then address the various categories, that is, the hierarchy and subjects, religious and laity. Bishops, presbyters, and the religious belong themselves to the People of God. This chapter, therefore, is in no way a treatment only of the laity.The misconception is to identify the People of God with the laity which clearly is not Lumen Gentium's intent.You say in an earlier comment:"An ontology of the Church requires study of the subjectivity by which a person becomes a Christian through faith, hope and love and of the inter-subjectivity by which believers are brought together as assemblies. There is no suprapersonal entity above and apart from these believers and their assemblies. The Ecclesia universa is the communion of all such believers and their assemblies, and this communion is an event within a shared consciousness, the communion that results from or, rather, consists in, the common faith, hope and love that Gods word and grace enable and effect."There is much here with which I agree. But I wonder whether you would extend that "shared consciousness" to embrace the consciousness enjoyed by those in the heavenly Church -- hence my reference above to Lumen Gentium, chapters 8 and 9. Does the Doctrinal Commission shed light on how they envision the relation between LG, chapter 2 and its last two chapters -- the ecclesia peregrinans and the ecclesia coelestis?

The people of God is the whole church which includes leaders. The problem used to be that the church was only identified with the hierarchy.

Fr. K.,You are right, I do not have access to the mind of God. But we all have access to God's gracious self-revelation, which includes the strikingly "high" characterizations of the Church in the letters to the Colossians and the Ephesians.

Interesting parallel between the phenomenological approach to church and the "from below" approach to Christology. In both cases we need to begin from below and never lose touch with that starting point. Augustine's thought on the heavenly church and the communion of saints begins from his experience of friends and relatives who had gone to Abraham's bosom. The heavenly extension of the lived, earthly sancta societas remained thus a vivid phenomenological reality for him. Something similar could be said of Colossians and Ephesians. "He is the head of the body, the Church" (Col 1:18) is based on the sense of the presence of the risen Lord where the congregation are gathered. Likewise when the author offers his sufferings for "the body of Christ which is the Church" (1:24) he is thinking primarily of the brethren in his concrete congregations, not of some platonic heavenly ideal church.

Kathy: And how does the "high" ecclesiology (if that is what it is) in Eph and Col affect how one integrates the elements of the Church distinguished and united in LG 8? Another question: Who are the Church described in Eph and Col? That is, in whom, of whom, does it consist?

The Church is "his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way" (Eph 1:23), "God's household" with Christ as the "cornerstone" (2:20); through the Church the manifold wisdom of God is made known in the heavenly realms (3:10); Christ presents her to himself as "a radiant church without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless" (5:27). The phenomenological foundation of this should be the experience of the holiness of the praying community and its charisms, and particularly the experience of plenitude born of the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile in the new community. A "congregational reduction" of this language can have the positive sense that the word carries in the phrase "phenomenological reduction" -- re-ducere, a leading back of language to the phenomena that found it.

Fr. K - had a momentary thought that we should wait for firther developments. But, to be honest, and following up on your blog below about the parallel church.....some of us have been dealing with sexual abuse since the early 1980's and seeing one side of the parallel church not exactly live up to the spirit of the People of God.Just take Ireland - we have had three judicial reports on the scope and context of the Irish abuse culture; the role of institutions and religious communities, and now Dublin archdiocese. If other diocesan judicial reports are done, they will merely repeat the patterns of Dublin - smaller numbers but the same emotional impact.Realize that part of the parallel church is the institution and the hierarchy ......they have their proper role to play. But, this effort and meeting continues to reflect a partial, limited, controlled response to devastating and long lasting events. Will the rest of the people of God be included, addressed (beyond a Lenten letter), will religious communities be included; what about the Irish government (realize that Rome must protect its diplomatic sovereignity but these events might call for a different response from the papal envoy?); what about the victims that the bishops met with; their request for justice - not just the $1.3 bl in euros?Do you really think that this piecemeal approach does justice or reflects the gospel imperatives for the total People of God?

Fr. O'Leary,I think that the phenomenological reduction is exactly what is impossible, given these texts. For one thing, the very singularity of "the church" implies, to my mind, that this cannot be a local church, even if universalized to mean every local church; it especially cannot be limited to those local churches now on earth, and those Christians now on earth.Interestingly, Christ here, as in Paul's body analogy, is a member. He's the directive member, the founding member, the sine qua non member by which membership is measured. But Christ is not divided.

Bill de Haas:No, I don't think that. But that's why I opened a separate thread to talk about the Irish situation and what it might say about the contemporary Church. I still don't like to speak in terms of "parallel Churches"; the whole point Vatican II was making here was that there are not two Churches but one single, complex one. That's why I don't like to use the word "Church" when the hierarchy or clergy are meant, and also why I don't like the phrase "the institutional Church." If one means by that the hierarchy, it is simpler and clearer to say "the hierarchy." Another reason I opened a separate thread is that I have found that many people find it difficult to concentrate on what the texts of Vatican II meant because they want to rush on to talk about the contemporary Church. I have no problem with wanting to do the latter; but it's also legitimate to ask what precisely did the Council say and mean, which was the point of this thread.

Father O'Leary,I think there is a richness in what you term "phenomenological analysis" that I by no means want to deny, but rather affirm.You write:"Augustines thought on the heavenly church and the communion of saints begins from his experience of friends and relatives who had gone to Abrahams bosom. The heavenly extension of the lived, earthly sancta societas remained thus a vivid phenomenological reality for him."Let me even concede your point as to where Augustine's reflection "begins." But I do not think it ends there. There are legitimate further questions to be addressed -- questions of a speculative nature that sound the ontological depths of the newness that Christ's paschal mystery reveals and the new people it calls into being.I take it that is why Augustine did not end his Confessions with the phenomenological analysis of the first ten books, but felt compelled to move on to Books eleven, twelve, and thirteen. Not merely a re-ductio ad phaenomena. but a re-ductio in mysterium Trinitatis.

the very singularity of the church implies, to my mind, that this cannot be a local church, even if universalized to mean every local church Kathy, I think this is the point where this discussion started on an earlier thread. If the Church in heaven is united with the Church on earth, why would the local church on earth not be the 'whole' church? The singularity of the Church implies that every Eucharist is but a single Eucharist, and it includes all who gather with Christ to join in his offering, no matter when or where. That is how I read the quotes above, Bouyer and Augustine as well as St Paul. The communion is one, shared by me and you through communion in Christ in our local churches. It is not the communion of my church and the communion of your church and every other communion added together, but a common communion in Christ. (Though certainly there are times when universal and local are appropriate ways of talking about the Church) Uncovering the mystery of the local church is the route to discovering the mystery of the 'whole' church, which I think is not quite the same as "phenomenological reduction" but is very similar to it. The concrete reality of a local Church is the reality in the mind of God, and there we have a little access to God's revelation of that mind.

Fr Imbelli, the reductio in Trinitatem would not be necessary if the trinitarian structure of church community was vividly apprehended. The Trinity itself undergoes a phenomenological reduction of sorts in Rahner and Barth (though not in the reductive sense of, say, Tillich).

"Who are the Church described in Eph and Col? That is, in whom, of whom, does it consist?"Fr. Komonchak, it seems to me that through points already established in our discussion, especially regarding the Communion of Saints, the Church as described in Ephesians and Colossians cannot be identified with any particular sociological group. It transcends any group one could point to. I don't think this is a new idea. When the Psalms speak of "Israel" they do not mean one man, nor the people of Israel who are currently alive. They mean something inclusive of these and yet transcendent of them. The Psalms are speaking of a covenanted people.The Church, similarly, refers not to only the people we can see. It includes them, neceessarily and not accidentally. But it transcends them.

Father O'Leary,Blessed Ash Wednesday! As I said before, there is much that you say with which I agree. I too would like to see "the trinitarian structure of church community" be "vividly apprehended."But that "trinitarian structure" points beyond itself to the Mystery of the Trinity. Otherwise the re-ductio risks becoming a Kantian reduction to the phenomena alone.I think this is why Congar and others found Rahner's "Grundaxiom" wanting.

The Church on earth is a particular sociological group, full incorporation into which is described in LG 14. This Church is also in communion with the holy ones who have gone before us or will come after us. In that sense, the Church is more than those we can see, but I have identified who it is in whom the communion of holy ones transcends thosw whom we can see. I'm not sure that you have identified them, or even if you think it important to be able to identify them.

I understand that part of the danger of abstraction, as suggested in the initial post, is the positing of a "real church" or a "true church" that has no connection to the visible structure. Many of the separated brethren feel that they belong to the "true church" Having just googled "true church," I found 891,000 results, of which this is by far the most enjoyable: think that the basic assertion of this post is correct, and that the "true church" is integral with the "visible church"--the spiritual community with the visible community. But explaining the integration of these two would, I think, is of a difficulty on a similar scale of explaining the two natures in Christ, and might best be done, as in the Calcedonian definition, in negative rather than positive terms.

This is a great discussion! Next week I begin teaching a little course on the church for our permanent deacon candidates in the diocese. Rare is a discussion about which i want to take notes. Joe: Thanks for triggering this discussion. Blessings to all as Lent begins.

Kathy: In support of the difficulty there is this: In explaining the meaning of the title of the first chapter of Lumen gentium, the Doctrinal Commission said: "The word 'mystery' does not simply point to something unknowable or abstuse, but, as is commonly acknowledged today, it designates a transcendent and salvific divine reality that is revealed and made manifest in some visible manner. The word, then, which is quite biblical, is quite apt for designating the Church." If the Church has to do with God, or God with the Church, there is proper mystery (or Mystery) at its heart, analogous to the proper Mystery in that in a particular Palestinian Jew the Word of God was made flesh. So it is in the scruffy group of believers in him that we believe is found the People of God, the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Mystery in the sense intended disappears if one or other of the elements is removed, the Palestinian Jew or the eternal Word, the scruffy group or the trinitarian presence. Congar has a lengthy article, not available in English, I believe, on the contributions and limitations of the analogy with the Incarnation.

To extend the analogy, maybe Vatican II was the Nicea of ecclesiology. "Subsistit in" is just the beginning of understanding, much as "consubstantial" was. It isn't a negative term, precisely, but it isn't exactly content-rich, either. It begins to establish the fact of the mystery of the unity.

Bob Imbelli asked what the Doctrinal Commission might have said about Chapter VII of Lumen gentium. This is what I found in the Commission's report of July 1964: "This chapter was introduced at the wish of Pope John XXIII, who entrusted its preparation to Cardinal Larraona and a special commission....Formerly entitled On the consummation of holiness in the glory of the Saints, the chapter is now entitled On the eschatological character of our vocation and on our union with the Church in heaven. The text talks about this union rather directly about the cult of the Saints; that is, the emphasis falls on the glorifying offered to God by the whole Mystical Body, that is, the Church both in heaven and on earth. It should be noted that the Churchs eschatological character was also dealt with passim in earlier chapters. The whole of paragraph 48 was given a new order so that the eschatological tendency of our life might be stated more clearly and more vividly, that is, the continuity of our life that begins on earth and is brought to completion in heaven. A lively awareness of this truth logically leads to a consideration of those who are already in heaven, and this consideration in turn yields a fuller understanding of the Mystery of the Church. For in this way the communion of all who belong to Christ is perceived and heavens realities become more vividly present to us.As is clear from the text, the presentation of the eschatological character of our vocation, which relies chiefly on scriptural texts, has been done in such a way that the faithful, recalling the vivid words of the Lord and the Apostles, may reach a deeper perception of the intrinsic links among these truths and of their fundamental importance for our Christian life.At the same time the desire of the Supreme Pontiff and of many fathers was met: that the principal truths concerning the Last Things be at least alluded to.Paragraphs 49 and 50 were written in such a way as to show the ultimate doctrinal foundation of the whole chapter, that the Church on earth and in heaven constitute one People of God and one Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. This union is described in terms of the many vital relationships that exist between wayfarers and citizens of heaven, especially the beneficent activity of the latter toward the whole Church.Paragraph 50 chiefly indicates the ways in which wayfarers should actuate their relationships with the saints in heaven; it sets out the principal motives for fostering our union with the Church in heaven: that the saints in heaven offer authentic examples of Christian life; that our interaction with them leads us more closely to Christ; and especially that association with them brings fullness to the Churchs Christ-centered worship. ....(Alberigo-Magistretti, Synopsis historica, 485)

On Rahner's Grundaxiom, of course it does not unsay the basic specifications of the fourth century trinitarian dogma (which Newman famously summed up in nine simple propositions). But it does, very firmly, relocated the mystery of the Trinity in the trinitarian event of revelation, and not in a speculative construction behind the scenes. The dogmatic specifications have a negative role, as a hedge about that event, a minimal set of safeguards of its integrity. To make them into the launching pad of brilliant speculation, increasingly alien to the Gospel, is to cultivate an ambition that has more to do with Greek philosophy than with Scripture. To glorify uncritically the Trinitarian speculation of St Thomas Aquinas (the best of that bunch) would be a failure in theological discernment.

Fr. O'Leary--Could you tell us a bit more about Newman on the Trinity?

Fr. O'Leary,Why would speculation necessarily have to become "increasingly alien to the Gospel?"Dei Verbum 2.8 says "There is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke, 2:19, 51) through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her."

Augustine's idea of the Trinity (and the one articulated by Aquinas) as Father as being, Son as self-awareness and Spirit as the love between the two (my words) is the only explanation of the Trinity that has ever made any sense to me.

Kathy --I find your answer to that question very interesting. It reminds me of some fundamental questions that the modern mathematicians have tried to answer about math, specifically the Peano system of arithmetic. (Yes, arithmetic.)The advent of the non-Euclidean geometries forced mathematicians to question whether intuitive approaches to math were a good idea, whether they inevitably lead to truth. So the mathematicians speculated about the nature of deductive systems and about the criteria of an ideal system. It seems to me that theologians trying to understand the Mysteries, especially the Trinity, are vexed with some similar questions. These days ideal math systems begin with definitions, axioms, and rules. Theologians ask: can the Trinity be defined or even accurately be described?? Which statements about the Trinity are axiomatic? Those in Scripture? Creeds? What else, if anything? (Axioms need not be proven, of course.) Which rules should/can/might guide the theologians thinking? Are explications of Mysteries subject to logical rules? And/or other rules or other constraints in thinking? How about the fittingness of a new description with other views of the Trinity? What is fittingness? How do you identify it when you find it? Some criteria of a perfect math system include consistency (that's an old one). A new, very important one is completeness. The theological problem t I think you're wondering about above concerns completeness. It was discovered that if the Peano system of arithmetic was *complete* then it was also, necessarily *inconsistent*. Something like this seems to be the case with the theology of the Trinity -- if we think we have everything accurately, then we're being inconsistent about something somewhere, even if we don't know what it is.It was also proven that there are certain arithmetic statements which can be articulated but which cannot even be proven to be either true or false. They're arithmetic mysteries!! Not that we can tell which those statements are -- we just know that there are some. Mathematician can't even prove which individual statements are essentially unprovable, excepting, of course, those which they have in fact been proven or disproved. This seems analogous to the situation with the theology of the Trinity. You might think that your new description of the Trinity is consistent with the rest of the theory, so that your intuition is quite possibly true. But it might not be and perhaps there is no way of proving that it is -- or isn't. This is where I think the point about too much dependence on Aquinas is relevant.All this convinces me that the Mystery of the Trinity simply cannot be exhausted. The body of statements about it must be consistent, but God alone must know which statements are false. I believe we cannot know whether or not some possible statements can ever be proven either true or false, so the possibility of an exhaustive theology of the Trinity would be impossible. (Makes sense to me. I wonder if my statements before this one are provable :-)

Ann,I think the analogy to geometry is a fair one, and one that Aquinas for example would agree with. He thought that the principles of the science of theology were given in revelation."Sacred doctrine is a science. We must bear in mind that there are two kinds of sciences. There are some which proceed from a principle known by the natural light of intelligence, such as arithmetic and geometry and the like. There are some which proceed from principles known by the light of a higher science: thus the science of perspective proceeds from principles established by geometry, and music from principles established by arithmetic. So it is that sacred doctrine is a science because it proceeds from principles established by the light of a higher science, namely, the science of God and the blessed. Hence, just as the musician accepts on authority the principles taught him by the mathematician, so sacred science is established on principles revealed by God. " (Ia.1.2)However, I'm not sure we could find a similar analogy to the rethinking occasioned by the non-Euclidean geometries. The problem with Euclidean geometry is that one of the principles, Postulate V, was the sort of thing that *should* be proven--it would normally be the conclusion of a process of deduction. But instead of proving it, Euclid adopts it as a principle. In other words, there is a weakness in his foundation, a flaw due to circular reasoning in his principles.I think in order to accept the analogy completely, one would have to say one of the axioms of Catholicism was weak to begin with.

Kathy --As I understand it Principle V (sbout parallel lines not intersecting) *can't* be proven from Euclid's other axioms, so it must given as an axiom if it is to be included in a Euclidean system. In fact its negation can be postulated in a non-Euclidean system and it will also be a consistent one. This is what shook up the mathematicians so much. The objection to it in antiquity was that it wasn't simple enough to be an axiom (simplicity to them being a requirement for axioms).One reason I think these criteria might be interesting for theologians is that there might be some theological statements which are intuitively assumed to be true when speaking of God (or other things perhaps) but turn out not to be. I suspect these counter-statements would be particulatly important when making statements about God's infinity which might seem to be known to be true intuitively (like Euclid'sparallels postulate) but which aren't when applied to God.My main point was that consistency, completeness and decidability might be valuable when used to wonder about and critique particular theological statements and systems. As to weak Catholic axioms, they are as weak as ou understandings of them. Nowhere does Jesus promise that the Holy Spirit will answer all of our theological questions nor that our understandings of His answers will at every time be completely accurate.

I hope I do not repeat, having only scanned this educational thread.Fr. K wrote: Of every statement about the Church it is legitimate to ask: Of whom, in whom, is this true? Excellent point.I am reminded of David Gibsons comment in The Coming Catholic Church p. 117 in regard to answering the above question when it comes to apologies by popes:The apologies that John Paul has offered in recent years for terrible chapters in the churchs past(Holocaust)illustrate this problem. Rather than apologizing for what the Catholic Church per se has done, the pontiff invariably apologizes for the sins of the sons and daughters of the church who went astray. John Pauls tradition of apologizing is widely welcomed, but this distancing language can appear so couched and diplomatic that it fuels the very resentments it was designed to assuage.The world is not a faculty lounge of parsing fine distinctions. Whose responsibility is it to speak to the modern world in ways that clarify instead of obfuscate, own a crisis instead of just manage it? p. 118 For lay Catholics this is the background: a Vatican II model of church as the People of God versus the institutional, hierarchical model that reigned for centuries and is struggling to reassert itself. (yes!) The priority for lay Catholics(quoting theologian Thomas Groome) is to reclaim our vocation as a priestly people in keeping with the spirit and documents of Vatican II. The theology is in place; now we must implement it on the ground.Fr. K also wrote: The Church is not something apart from its members. To many, the problem is the hierarchy identifies itself *in practice* as the Church apart from its lay members and as David says above, is struggling to reassert itself as such. The gap is huge, maybe not in theological language, but in on the ground reality.An example of the divide: Davids description of US bishops listening to survivors in Dallas: Most sat quietly, or fidgeted, or looked down at the papers in front of them. Response of one bishop: Well, that was interesting. If memory serves, the standing ovation was reserved later for Wilton Gregory, not the courageous survivors who just bared their souls. The detachment was unnerving, David wrote.

Does speculation necessarily become increasingly estranged from the Gospel? Yes, the kind of metaphysical speculation that seeks to "explain" the Trinity has indeed grown alien from the Gospel. The kind of deepening insight into the revealed mystery that Vatican II refers to is what I woul call Thought rather than speculation -- Vatican II, stressing that Scripture is the very soul of theological study, is correcting the speculative addiction of the De Deo Trino tractates.In short, Vatican II realized that theologians were asking the wrong questions. In Gabriel Marcel's terms, they were treating a Mystery as a Problem. The misleading analogy with geometry was quite widespread.Rahner pointed out that all talk of a Trinity was an extrapolation from the biblical contemplative apprehension of God, Logos, Spirit -- theses modes of being of the divine were fully given in the revelation event, not pieced together by speculative deduction.Augustine plays with Trinitarian analogies (actually treatiing the idea of the Spirit as bond of love between Father and Son quite casually) to show how the one God could have three distinct modes of being. He thought the most helpful analogy was the way the one human mind was memory, intelligence and will, though he saw this only as a very dim and inconsistence image of the Trinity, per speculum in aenigmate. In fact the lesson one could draw from Augustine (reading the WHOLE of his De Trinitate, which ends on a quite negative, apophatic note) is that such speculative stabs are intriniscally feeble and limited and that they send us back again and again to the simpler and stronger language of Scripture. The scholastics ignored these existential qualifications of Augustine's efforts and sought instead to build up a Science of divine being.

Aquinas put the Trinity in the category of revelation, where it clearly belongs, and not in the category of things you could rationally figure out. And even that which he thought could be figured out about God was solidly tempered with "negative" theology (e.g., you know God best by knowing that you don't know anything).

Newman's "reduction" of the Trinity is in the Grammar of Assent.The Vatican's refusal to disown the Inquisition in 2000 is of a piece with its stonewalling on sexual scandals.

Aquinas is apophatic in principle but it is hard to remember that when one is deep in the thickets of his stunning exposition of the logic of processions, persons, relations and notiones. It was certainly forgotten in most theological practice. Apophasis was not a sufficient safeguard of theological sobriety. A more thorough regrounding in biblical phenomenality was needed and Vatican II pointed the way to that.

Revelation is not about trans-rational propositions but about the encounter with the divine in history. Vatican II wrote on Revelation to correct entrenched distortions on this point.

Aquinas's apophaticism is more clearly in evidence in his discussion of De deo uno -- the first tenet he upholds is the divine simplicity, which as a classic theme of apophatic theology.

Ann,I think that the "simple" answer to the problem of the Trinity is Arius' answer. In other words, the wrong answer. Providentially, Arius was a useful foil for the early Church--a foil and a goad. But he was wrong.

Carolyn Disco: When I posed as a general principle, Of every statement about the Church it is legitimate to ask: Of whom, in whom, is this true, you thought it an excellent point, but then seem to me to have contradicted it by regarding as an academic parsing of fine distinctions when Pope John Paul II spoke of the sins, not of the Church, but of her sons and daughters. But let us take the case of racism. Should the Church confess the sin of racism? Well, who are the Church that is making this confession? And who are the Church convicted of that sin? It is easy enough to answer that by the Church in the two cases one means the hierarchy; but if, instead, one means by the Church the entire body of believers, it becomes more difficult to determine who are the Church guilty and who are the Church confessing her guilt. Many people mistakenly took Pope John Paul IIs reluctance to speak of the Church as herself guilty of the scores of sins for which he expressed regret and repentance as an attempt to excuse the hierarchy, but it clear from more than one of those statements that he included prelates and his own predecessors as among the Churchs sons and daughters who had given counter-testimony to Christ.You also wrote: To many, the problem is the hierarchy identifies itself *in practice* as the Church apart from its lay members and as David says above, is struggling to reassert itself as such. The gap is huge, maybe not in theological language, but in on the ground reality. I think this is a real problem, but a solution is not brought nearer by our using the Church in our indictments when we really mean the hierarchy. If we mean the hierarchy, say the hierarchy. Its far more precise, and leaves the Church to refer to the whole body of believers, lay and clerical alike, and together.

But to blame "sons and daughters" of the Church for sins committed from excess of a "zeal for truth" is really passing the buck. It was the Holy See itself who was to the fore in pushing torture and execution of heretics and very widespread curbing of human rights over seven centuries. The heritage of this lives on. Reading about the relentless persecution of Ernesto Buonaiuti (1881-1946) by the Holy See (including a campaign to have him sacked from his secular teaching position) I see that the legacy of the Inquisition was never cleanly dissolved. Catholic bloggers maintain the inquisitional attitudes with diligence, some calling for the canonization of Tomas de Torquemada. The Vatican itself wanted to canonize Queen Isabella, despite the proto-Nazi character of her expulsion of the Jews.

Newman, Grammar of Assent, ch. 5, pt.2:The Creeds are enough to show that the dogma may be taught in its fulness for the purposes of popular faith and devotion without directly insisting on that mysteriousness, which is necessarily involved in the combined view of its separate propositions. That systematized whole is the object of notional assent, and its propositions, one by one, are the objects of real.To show this in fact, I will enumerate the separate propositions of which the dogma consists. They are nine, and stand as follows:1. There are Three who give testimony in heaven, the Father, the Word or Son, and the Holy Spirit.2. From the Father is, and ever has been, the Son.3. From the Father and Son is, and ever has been, the Spirit.4. The Father is the One Eternal Personal God. 5. The Son is the One Eternal Personal God. 6. The Spirit is the One Eternal Personal God.7. The Father is not the Son. 8. The Son is not the Holy Ghost. 9. The Holy Ghost is not the Father.Now I think it is a fact, that, whereas these nine propositions contain the Mystery, yet, taken, not as a whole, but separately, each by itself, they are not only apprehensible, but admit of a real apprehension....This being understood, I ask what chapter of St. John or St. Paul is not full of the Three Divine Names, introduced in one or other of the above nine propositions, expressed or implied, or in their parallels, or in parts or equivalents of them? What lesson is there given us by these two chief writers of the New Testament, which does not grow out of Their Persons and Their Offices? At one time we read of the grace of the Second Person, the love of the First, and the communication of the Third; at another we are told by the Son, "I will pray the Father, and He will send you another Paraclete;" and then, "All that the Father hath are Mine; the Paraclete shall receive of Mine." {138} Then again we read of "the foreknowledge of the Father, the sanctification of the Spirit, the Blood of Jesus Christ;" and again we are to "pray in the Holy Ghost, abide in the love of God, and look for the mercy of Jesus." And so, in like manner, to Each, in one passage or another, are ascribed the same titles and works: Each is acknowledged as Lord; Each is eternal; Each is Truth; Each is Holiness; Each is all in all; Each is Creator; Each wills with a supreme Will; Each is the Author of the new birth; Each speaks in His ministers; Each is the Revealer; Each is the Lawgiver; Each is the Teacher of the elect; in Each the elect have fellowship; Each leads them on; Each raises them from the dead. What is all this, but "the Father Eternal, the Son Eternal, and the Holy Ghost Eternal; the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost Omnipotent; the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost God," of the Athanasian Creed? And if the New Testament be, as it confessedly is, so real in its teaching, so luminous, so impressive, so constraining, so full of images, so sparing in mere notions, whence is this but because, in its references to the Object of our supreme worship, it is ever ringing the changes (so to say) on the nine propositions which I have set down, and on the particular statements into which they may be severally resolved?SO SPARING IN MERE NOTIONS! Newman is no friend of speculative theology, steeped as he is in Scripture and the Fathers. In this respect, he is a father of Vatican II.

fr. O'Leary: I don't know whom the first sentence of your post, where you talk about "passing the buck, is quoting. I myself was thinking of John Paul II's criticism of those who used violence in the service of truth. And i don't take "sons and daughters of the Church" to mean sons and daughters of the hierarchy, much less of the Vatican. As I said, he made it clear that he included clergy and some of his predecessors among those "sons and daughters of the Church."

Sorry for confusing juxtapositions, Fr. K. Yes, you made an excellent point. Lets be clear who is speaking for and to whom. I see now the source of your puzzlement that I compliment the idea, but then object to the use of such distinctions in the following text. The problem as I see it is what you specify here about popes and the hierarchy excusing themselves. It was not clear enough what JPII meant, and the use of technical language contrary to popular understanding only exacerbated the situation.Re: Many people mistakenly took Pope John Paul IIs reluctance to speak of the Church as herself guilty of the scores of sins for which he expressed regret and repentance as an attempt to excuse the hierarchy, but it clear from more than one of those statements that he included prelates and his own predecessors as among the Churchs sons and daughters who had given counter-testimony to Christ.I wonder how solidly JP2s inclusion of hierarchy was set in the popular mind. Judging from Davids statement, there was still much resentment fueled by what was widely seen as distancing language couched in theological and diplomatic terms. Rather than apologizing for what the Catholic Church per se has done I remember reading at the time about apologies not being an appropriate occasion for such fine theological distinctions *not generally understood* by our Jewish brethren or most Catholics in the pews. If it had been clear to everyone that hierarchy was included, then I believe no resentment would have followed.I have seen the inelegant term, hurch, in circulation, but prefer hierarchy.

John Paul II may have included individual bishops or popes in his apology for violence in the service of truth, but even this would not go far enough. The Inquisition was not the decision of individual bishops or popes. It was a structural organ of the Roman Church at the highest level. An individual pope who tried to abolish it might have found himself hauled before it! Several heads of the Roman inquisition graduated to the papacy. The Spanish Inquisition was abolished in the early 19th century at a time when Spain was going through a liberal phase, but the Vatican protested and had it opened again for a few years, I understand. The Roman inquisition was never abolished, but lost its teeth progressively, especially with the fall of the Papal States in 1870. The Holy Office was renamed the CDF around the time of Vatican II. There is a continuity in mentality between the Roman inquisition of the 16th century and the CDF of today, despite Paul VI's starry-eyed prescriptions for a reform of the CDF on the last day of Vatican II; he left the reform in the hands of the very people who were dead set against it.

Another piece of weaseling is the Vatican's review of the Galileo case. The Jesuit Vatican astronomer Coyne did an expose of the various falsifications in the Vatican accounts of the incident, including I think from Card. Ratzinger's pen.

However, John Paul II certainly made a historic intervention with his talk of purification of memory. The principle was magnificent, and the practice may catch up with it, perhaps in another Council.

Here is how I began an article that traced the history of the Church's attitude toward religious freedom in the 20th century. The last sentence is an understatement."In the first decade of the twentieth century, Lucien Choupin and Elphge Vacandard. S.J., carried on a lively debate over whether in past centuries it was right and just for heretics to be executed and over whether the Church still retained the right to invoke the States coercive power in order to defend the faith. In the middle of the century, John Courtney Murray, S.J., ignited a debate that would end with his silencing when he wrote an essay in which he denied that civil government had a right to use its power to repress heresy. At the end of the century, Pope John Paul II included among matters for which the Church should express repentance for the sins and failures of her children the acquiescence given, especially in certain centuries, to intolerance and even the use of violence in the service of truth. From these painful moments of the past the Pope drew the sublime principle stated by the Council: The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it wins over the mind with both gentleness and power."The way to this sublime principle and to the repentance urged by the pope was long and difficult for the Catholic Church."A footnote reads: "In the last three months Vatican-sponsored meetings have been held to reconsider the figures of Jan Hus and Giordano Bruno, and while there has been no rehabilitation of the views of either man, in both cases Vatican officials have deplored their execution, and the pope himself expressed his profound regret for the cruel death inflicted on Hus; see LOsservatore Romano, English edition, 22 December 1999."

Newman, Grammar of Assent, ch. 5, pt.2:"The Creeds are enough to show that the dogma may be taught in its fullness for the purposes of popular faith and devotion without directly insisting on that mysteriousness, which is necessarily involved in the combined view of its separate propositions. That systematized whole is the object of notional assent, and its propositions, one by one, are the objects of real."Clearly, Aquinas, when he preached in Naples, did not preach the notions of Part One of the Summa. But his mind was capacious enough to realize that there was legitimate, indeed necessary, place for both: first order and second order language.No one in this thread, as far as I can tell, would dispute the Council's dictum that "scripture is the soul of theology." But, in recommending the study of Aquinas, the Council itself acknowledged that it is not the whole of theology.Father O'Leary may well prefer the solid Anglo-Saxon "Thought" (with "T" capitalized in good Germanic fashion) to the airy Latinate "speculation." However, the point remains that there are further questions that are legitimate and lead beyond (without forsaking) Scripture: to the Johannine comma (with which Newman begins his list of propositions) to the fourth-century Creeds, and even beyond. Did not that recognition lead Newman to Rome?

Aquinas certainly does love to get his inner-engineer on; when reading certain passages one can practically see the logic diagrams rising from the page. Having spent most of my adult life around telephone company engineers and computer nerds, his propeller-headedness comes across to me quite strongly ;-) If he were alive today I wonder if he wouldn't end up a scientist rather than a theologian. Yet I also think he holds great potential appeal for the modern world because he doesn't fear logic and from what I can tell (not being an Aquinas scholar) fully engages with the basic phenomena of existence.

"Fully engages with the basic phenomena of existence" -- of course the whole debate concerns whether his metaphysical categories can fully engage those phenomena. Even the more dynamic and existentialized categorical apparatus of Hegel is accused, by Kierkegaard, of failing quite radically to engage those phenomena. Hence the cult of Denken as at least a necessary supplement to Vernunft. Fr Imbelli recognizes that scripture provides a first-order discourse and metaphysical theology a second-order one. This in itself is a modern emphasis. Some counter-reformation theologian claimed that Jesus spoke to his disciples in private in scholastic syllogisms -- so convinced was the theologian that these provided the first-order and most adequate articulation of faith. Another question is whether the first-order scripture based thought and articulation of faith simply coexists peacefully with the metaphysical and speculative second order reasoning. Newman was steeped in authors like Athanasius, Hilary and the Cappadocians who were very aware of the dangerous power of even the simple metaphysical categories used in the fourth century debate and who were dragged kicking and screaming into the sphere of second-order discourse. He had a seasoned awareness of the gaps between biblical Christianity and the speculative mode that he would have met when he studied Catholic theology in Rome. Since the Thomistic revival had not yet begun, he may never have appreciated the genius of Aquinas.

As an Anglican Newman admired Bellarmine and took him as his guide in writing the Lectures on Justification. To my mind, this lamed Newman's openness to the insights of Luther. Though Newman is not as tone deaf to the Reformation teaching on grace as most Anglican and Catholic theologians have been (see Alister McGrath and Diane Hampton on this), he should have thought more biblically insteading of scoring "logical" points.

Oops, I meant Daphne Hampson.

There are many people who pursue "scientific" speculation about God today, often drawing on Aquinas. But they tend to be philosophers of religion rather than theologians (Eleanor Stump is a good one). What distinguishes them from theologians is that they take massive metaphysical categories such as omniscience and omnipotence as data that one can argue about logically and build speculation on. Theologians tend to have a more dubitative and gingerly attitude to these categories. Of course the philosophers of religion think the theologians are suffering a softening of the brain. (I'm sure a lot of Thomists in the past thought of Newman as a second-rate intellect.)

I'm just beginnng to read the writings of Ernesto Buonaiuti, who seems to be the greatest religious thinker of 20th century Italy. Because of the relentless demonizing of him as a Modernist by the Vatican his work is pretty much unknown to Catholics. Yet he was a godsend that the Church should have used, overlooking if need be whatever over-liberal outlooks he may have cultivated. My initial impression is that he is a greater thinker, writer, and human being than Alfred Loisy.

I came upon Aquinas about five years ago (unencumbered by metaphysics). I just read books about him and I've read the Concise Translation of the Summa. When I read things like how he uses reality as a primary source, asks why is there not nothing, considers not knowing anything about God a good start, considers goodness growing into what you are supposed to become, thinks that God thinks us into existence for a particular purpose, etc. etc. etc. then I think this guy knows something about the same world I live in. The Trinity makes sense, the virtues makes sense, grace as healing makes sense, Eucharist as presence makes sense. I take a personal rather than scholarly approach but his thought seems to work for me as a fine map of the fabric of being. And it's fun to annoy my kids with, 'Well Aquinas would say ...". Some of it may actually have sunk in.There's a good deal of Buonaiuti at Amazon but it's mostly all in Italian.

"Athanasius, Hilary and the Cappadocians ... were dragged kicking and screaming into the sphere of second-order discourse."Father O'Leary I'm trying to nudge you gently into the sphere of second-order discourse, but your kicking and screaming isn't helping!I may have to call upon un altro buon aiuto.

If there is a dominant trend in the remarkable revival of Thomistic studies in the last decade or two, it is the consideration of Aquinas, not first of all as a philosopher, but as a theologian. See Fergus Kerr's book, "After Aquinas." One part of this interest is in his biblical commentaries, which show quite unmistakeably that he was as attentive to the close meaning of the biblical text as his resources permitted. Reading his commentary on the Psalms, I am struck at how alert he is to the different textual readings supplied to him by the various Latin translations. Questions arise, and when they arise they need to be addressed. If they are metaphysical, they need to be addressed metaphysically. It would be obscurantism to rule out of court a priori whole sets of questions which can arise and have arisen.

Well, Wittgenstein would say that most metaphysical questions and their answers are wrongly phrased. As he says of the statement, "There are physical objects" -- "It is a misguided way of saying something that is not to be said in this way" (from On Certainty).So when faced with a metaphysical question, especially about God or Christ, the first thing to do is to assess the pertinence of the question, taking into account its historical context."If God knows what I am going to do tomorrow, how can I be free to do it or not?"Is this a question to be taken at face value?

Philosophers do not rule out questions a priori. But they often discredit questions on a posteriori grounds, or on the basis of dialectical argument. Kant did that a lot.Heidegger says that metaphysical questions are OK, but tend to fall short of the phenomena. Such questioning has inbuilt limits.I would say that Aquinas's way of thinking such matters as Eucharistic presence or Justification is limited by its reliance on Aristotle -- as when he discusses justification in terms of the categories of motion and change. (On his Eucharistic theology see the provocative discussion in Fitzpatrick, In Breaking of Bread.)Another factor to bear in mind is that metaphysical questions are not formulated in a timeless void. They have historical contexts, and we cannot take up the questions of the past as if nothing has changed. Hermeneutics and a critique of historical reason are required.I am happy that scholars are rediscovering Thomas as a theologian, perhaps restoring continuity with the Fathers. But does this translate into theologians using Thomas's categories directly as the philosophers of religion do? It seems to me that the theologians who attempt to do this -- the Revue Thomiste people for example -- don't cut much ice with the contemporary world.

Well, others would say that Wittgenstein was wrong on this. I'm afraid that I don't bow to his authority on the issue. In any case, what do you say to the person who asks the question you give at the end? That they shouldn't ask the question? That they're "misguided" in posing it? That their question is really not a valid question? That question has arisen, and many, many a philosopher and theologian have thought it legitimately posed and in need of being addressed. To take the same dismissive tone, one could ask whether your final question ought to be taken at face value? It''s an attractive ploy, of course, and excuses one from admitting the possibility that someone else might have a genuine interest in questions that don't happen to interest me. Why don't we let the proverbial thousand flowers bloom? Why rule whole sets of them out of court? Who's being intellectually open here?

Yes, there is extraordinarily little on Buonaiuti in English or in any other language than the one he mastered with such elegance. The Italian language preserves many other wondrous treasures of literature, thought and scholarship, as well as being itself inexhaustibly charming and subtle. Some works of Buonaiuti were translated, including a well-informed account of Ireland.

I am sorry you find my tone dismissive. I merely questioned the question, which is something that philosophers would do.I once asked Schillebeeckx if he thought Schoonenberg was a heretic, since the Church teaches that the Father is eternal, the Son is eternal, the Spirit is eternal, and Schoonenberg teaches that the Son come to be in time.Schillebeeck replied: "Time, eternity, these are categories that no one really understands".I did not find this a dismissive reply.Wittgenstein's remark is directed against George Moore, who said things like "I know there are physial objects, because this -- my hand -- is one". I do not think that Wittgenstein was dismissive. In fact, he was the only person who took Moore's argument seriously!The question about God's foreknowledge can be answered metaphysically as Boethius does: God knows all from out his eternity as it is happening. The future is Now to him.But modern theologians would not be quick to go down that path. They would first check the limits of our language and conceptuality in talking of such matters or imagining such conundrums.

I do not maintain that Aquinas is beyond criticism (nor Wittgenstein or Heidegger either), and God knows that I am not maintaining that he does not need to be read in historical context, something that has been a major part of Thiomistic scholarship for something going on to a century now. In fact, it is the idea that he did not legitimately ask and address his questions that suffers from a lack of historical perspective and contextualization. In fact, to repeat, the questions had arisen and needed to be addressed. And Aquinas didn't think he was abandoning the event of redemption and its appropriation in conversion in order to address them. As for "modern theologians" and what they would or would be quick to do, of course how the question is to be posed is a legitimate question, which includes in what language. As for "the limits of our language and conceptuality," I think we have to be cautious in setting them beforehand, that is, before serious inquiry into the question itself. It might be that we discover that the limit must be set much further along than we had thought in the beginning.

"Father OLeary Im trying to nudge you gently into the sphere of second-order discourse, but your kicking and screaming isnt helping!"I am trying to nudge you into the sphere of third-order discourse, where we take critical stock of two millennia of metaphysical theology -- the sphere explored with various successes and failures by such as Luther, Melanchthon, Pascal, Kant, Schleiermacher, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Ritschl, Harnack, Barth, Bultmann, Heidegger, Wittgenstein et al.I don't think it's good enough to dismiss all these questioners as obtuse or to put them in the column of adversarii.

I would not say that Aquinas did not legitimately address his questions. Within his historical metaphysical horizon he did an extraordinary job. But we need to trace the limits of that horizon and the limits of Aristotelian categories for the theological task.I don't think Wittgenstein or Heidegger set down the limits of language or conceptuality or metaphysics a priori. Wittgenstein altered his theory of the limits of language from the Tractatus to the Investigations, and the latter is quite open-ended.Heidegger spent most of his time studying classic metaphysical texts and writing illuminating commentaries on them, with a phenomenological slant (e.g. Plato's Sophist, Aristotle's Physics, Hegel's introduction to the Phenomenology, Schelling's work on Freedom). His judgment on the limits of metaphysics is a very informed one.Calling for a thousand blossoms to flourish is fine -- but some blossoms stifle the growth of others -- and other blossoms need much more critical vigilance than too tolerant theologians accord them (I think of the extravagances of postmodernism, right and left, and also the inane theorizings of Process Thought).Perhaps the "limits of language" topos is not the most helpful one. Or at least it needs to be cashed in clear demonstrations of the limits of a given language, and in respect of a particular concrete goal (such as the Gospel was for Luther or the phenomenality of being for Heidegger).In Madhyamika Buddhism, my favorite philosophy, all language is consigned to the realm of conventional or screening truth, and has validity only therein; the ultimate truth of emptiness is shown only through the dialectic that exposes the inner contradictions of the conventional -- the contradictions it falls into when it deludedly postulates self-existent realities. Only when the conventional realizes its utter flimsiness does it serve to convey insight into emptiness.Hegelian dialectic has a similar dissolutive force but it ends up serenely in the lap of the all-embracing Concept. Buddhist dialectic opens up to a nirvanic emptiness, and serenely lets things be in their dependently arising existence that is fundamentally empty.

As to weak Catholic axioms, they are as weak as ou understandings of them. Nowhere does Jesus promise that the Holy Spirit will answer all of our theological questions nor that our understandings of His answers will at every time be completely accurate.Ann, while Jesus did not guarantee the consistency of our understanding, He did promise its eventual completeness: "When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come." (John 16:13)

Wittgenstein's exact words are: "Is it as sufficient answer to the skepsis of the idealists or the assertions (Versicherungen) of the realists to say that the proposition 'There are physical objects' (Es gibt physikalische Gegenstaende) is nonsense (Unsinn)? For them it is not at all nonsense. It would be an answer, however, to say: this affirmation (Behauptung), or its opposite, is an attempt gone astray (ein fehlgegangener Versuch) to express what cannot be thus expressed. And that it goes astray can be shown; but therewith is its case not yet fully dealt with (damit ist aber ihre Sache noch nicht erledigt). For one must come to the insight that that which presents itself to us as first expression of a difficulty or its solution may still be a quite false expression. Just as one who rightly criticizes a picture will often at first apply the criticism to a place where it does not belong, and an *investigation* is needed to find the right point of application of the criticism." (On Certainty, 37) So it looks as if the first criticism of Moore's assertion leaves Wittgenstein dissatisfied and he seeks a deeper grasp of why and how the assertion is amiss.

Kathy --If Jesus is to "guide us into" the truth, that implies that He will not just *tell* us the truth and we will get it it immediately. It implies that our grasp of the truth will be an on-going process. And even if He has told us all that we are meant to know, this does not imply that we will immediately understood *His* meanings. A complete Revelation on His part is not a complete Revelation on ours.

Fr. O'Leary --Wittgenstein has been quoted as saying that he likes Aquinas' questions but not his answers. It has also been reported that he kept a copy of part of the first part of the Summa theologica on his bookshelves until the end of his life. (I don't recollect where I read that. It's not in Monk.)

Well, one great thinker recognizes another! (I also have virtually always had the Prima pars near at hand.) Reading more of Wittgenstein's notes on certainty, his last composition, I find them very resonant with the concerns of Newman in the Grammar of Assent -- indeed, essential reading for students of Newman's work. While the topic is the status of those tacit certitudes that accompany us through life -- e. g. the knowledge that I have two hands, that the earth existed long before I was born, etc., his effort to think clearly about them, forsaking the otiose theoretization that he fell for in the Tractatus, has much resonance for statements in theology as well, for instance this remark: "It is so hard to find the *beginning*. Or better: It is hard to begin at the beginning. And not to try to go back farther" (471). Aquinas, of course, is the full tide of Christian metaphysics, which means he goes back as far as possible, finding the ultimate grounds of all natureal and revealed phenomena. But for a later critical perspective the quest for grounds may overleap the texture of the phenomena, and it may be necessary to step back to them, overcoming the elaborate analyses of the theoretical superstructure, and exploring instead other paths of development.

From Fr. O Leary: "... the quest for grounds may overleap the texture of the phenomena..." Hmmm. When we try to figure out existence, I think we create higher levels of context and meaning. But where do we decide to stop? For example, do we stop at You and I exist here in this universe known as reality or do we go even further and imagine I am a brain in a jar imagining you and I in this universe known as reality or some other construction? But if we are brains in jars imagining it all, where do the jars come from? The creation of context, like all processes, either continues infinitely or it stops. (In computer science, we call this the stopping problem; a looping program is a program with a stopping problem.) So we either keep creating new (and sometimes more ridiculous) contexts, or we just pick a level of context and go with it. A popular one is You and I exist here in this universe known as reality. That's the one I'm good with. I think I exist. I think the universe exists. I think I exist in the universe. I don't think I'm a brain in a jar imagining it all. But this very choice signifies the possibility of a higher context, even if it's a choice we don't make; it's the inevitable pickle in which the choice places us. It's plausible that I am a brain in a jar imagining it all, I just don't happen to think that's the nature of reality (which is where the judgment comes in). But the process of creating context (and therefore meaning) is such that: 1. You could go on forever, merrily placing your existing context inside a higher one. 2. If you don't, you plant yourself somewhere. 3. The act of planting yourself has inherent in it a sense of incompleteness, which you could have defined by creating a higher level of context but chose not to. If we look at the way we make meaning, the creation of context carries with it an inherent sense of incompleteness, which I think is better solved by theology than by perpetually looping philosophy.

"Creating context" in the way you describe is the kind of think metaphysical reason is good at. But as the example of the brain in the vat shows, this easily overrides the authority and dignity of the phenomena -- in this case the phenomenality of the human mind as it shows itself in our experience. The protest, "I am NOT a brain in a vat!" is a naive resistance to metaphysics. Phenomenology offers a more sophisticated one -- not fighting metaphysics on its own ground with technical arguments but trying to show how and where the metaphysical line of thought blinds itself to significant dimensions of its phenomenal point of departure.Of course the great metaphysicians such as Aristotle and even Leibniz never stray as far from the phenomena as the brain-in-a-vat theorists. That is why Heidegger is able to read them as crypto-phenomenologists bearing what he calls "mittences of being" (Seinsgeschicke) that make up a "history of being" (Seinsgeschichte) despite the limiting effect of the onto-theo-logical structure of their thought. Incompleteness or finitude is of the essence of any phenomenological reality and of any well-grounded thinking. The tendency of metaphysics to treat this as a defect to be eliminated is resisted by people like Kierkegaard and Heidegger.

I hope there won't be a pop quiz when this discussion is over. I lost it a long time ago.

Jeanne:"It's turtles all the way down."Antonio

Antonio: Indeed. You either infinitely loop or at some point you stop. It's inherent in the nature of logic.

You stop, recognizing that your stopping point is provisional and "subject to change without written notice."

The Madhyamika Buddhists try to cut off prapanca (needless elaboration) by demonstrating its invalidity, that is, by showing the baselessness of all claims to substantive existence.Of course they in turn go on and on with their deconstructive arguments -- and the stopping point of these is probably provisional.Kant, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, and Derrida are in a similar position. Their basic effort is to reorient thinking in a critical, counter-metaphysical mode.

Antonio: Indeed. You either infinitely loop or at some point you stop. Its inherent in the nature of logicI think of it as recursive descent.In that vein, continuing our detour from the sublime to the ridiculous, check out:

" some point you stop..." Is it reasonable to stop there? If it is, fine. If not, it's a cop-out. We're all responsible for our judgments.

Great book, Antonio. Thanks for the refresh.

Stopping has to be a recognition of limits, not an assumption of completeness. That is what this thread is all about, accepting that the church is both divine and human, infinite and finite. It is never sufficient to accept the stopping point, the humanity we see, as the fullness of the church. There is always more.This is expressed in many ways here. The phenomenal always grounds the search for grounds. Theology provides avenues for thinking when philosophy gets caught in circles. Our stopping point is always provisional. Finitude is of the essence of phenomenological reality. These all restate the thesis here, that the Church cannot be confined to the limitations we want to impose, but has to be open to God's mysterious activity.

Buddhism does recognize that beyond the limits of conceptuality and language lies another kind of thinking, prajna, which can attain the ultimate insight of a Buddha. Likewise, Christian negative theology recognizes that faith and mysticism can go where speculative reason cannot. But the Gospel never promised the sort of speculative satisfaction that philosophy offers us in the great systems of Leibniz or Hegel. Speculative bulimia has often been confused with "faith seeking understanding".

Jim McK -So far as I know, it is the philosophy of math that has provided the avenue to God specifically suggested in this thread. Infinity was of fundamental interest to the great19-20th century mathematicians. Perhaps the most interesting idea of all are the transfinite number, orders of infinities (plural) discovered by Cantor. The first of them (called aleph null) is the series of natural numbers -- 1,2,3, etc. But the series does have a limit (though we can't imagine it. It is a number to which any finite number can be added and you still have the very same number! It can be multiplied by itself, yielding aleph 1, and this can be wo multiplied, and so on, and so on and so on. A big question for them was: is a continuous line the sum of all the transfinite numberw of points in that line? I don't know if it has been answered yet. Antonio might tell us something about it. That question is analogous, it seems to me, to the philosophical question: are the infinite number of possible perfections present in God as a simple, absolutely transfinite unity? Cantor was a religious man and did a paper using these transfinite numbers to try to expand our concept of the immensity of God. Anyway, his ideas and the ideas of that crop of mathematicians and philosophers of math lead to consideration of the very topics in this thread: finitude, infinity, completeness. and unity.Actually, the medievals knew about the infinite number to which any finite number could be added and you'd stil have the same number. Infinity was of great interest to them. i might note that they had a positive view of infinity, unlike the Greeks, including Aristotle. For the Greeks an infinite number connoted disorder and they wanted nothing to do with it. So, yes, theology hopefully goes past philosophy, but philosophy can open doors that theology has not dreamed were there.

Some find the positive view of infinity in Plotinus. Others claim to find it first in Gregory of Nyssa (with some putting forward claims for Hilary of Poitiers). Gregory's divine infinity is a quite simple phenomenon, nothing to do with infinite numbers of possible perfections. Divine simplicity and infinity are a quite Greek kind of notion, with roots in Plato's dialogue, the Parmenides. Further elaboration of those notions in theology along quasi-mathematical lines seems to entail estrangement from the phenomenality of the biblical God.

While he doesn't use the words, I get a strong sense of the idea of space-time from Aquinas, with us being stuck in space-time and God, having created it, being outside and uncontained by it, and therefore essentially mysterious to those of us inside it. And then, whamo, the Incarnation, God inside space-time. Very interesting.

Jeanne, that is actually very Augustinian, the infinite God within us. "Late have I loved you! Beauty so ancient and so new...I sought you outside, and you were within." With that, Augustine goes off into a meditation on time and memory that consumes the last quarter of the Confessions.

Ann,Calculus, invented by Newman and Liebnitz, was a way to tame the infinite, appointing finite numbers that could express the infinite. It was part of, and a basis for, a Deist worldview where everything could be explained if we only understood the laws of nature and the initial conditions. Godel quashed any hope of ever reaching that exalted state of knowledge., so modern math has been more about other ways of dealing with infinities. Cantor paved the foundations for some of those ideas, but was mostly still rooted in the Newtonian mindset. With quantum physics, the turn has been toward holding the infinite and finite together, without replacing either by the other.Wait. Isn't that what I said this thread was about, but in terms of the Church?

I often wonder if space-time isn't a characteristic of how human self-awareness is constructed rather than of the external world, which is why it transfigures when we get our bliss on ... Yet it always ends, and we're back in the practical world, and have to go to the grocery store, vote, etc.The Church is like this too (getting back to the intent of this post). Mystery and practical issues of governance. The two are both legitimate parts of the Church. One is the point, the other the mechanism.

Newton, surely.Godel and quantum indeterminacy surely are relevant to sighting the limits of speculation -- favoring Kant over Hegel. The speculative itch of theologians is remarkably unaffected by this. We go on talking about the eternal Trinity and its relations as if we were still living in the 14th century.

Mysticism may dissolve the limits of space and time, but it cannot make a mathematician capable of doing what Godel showed to be impossible, and it cannot make a theologian capable of speculative breakthroughs that the entire geography of the mind, as mapped by Kant, Dilthey, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Derrida etc. etc., shows to be lamed at their base.

Space-time is a very precisely defined concept in physics. It cannot be applied to a Kantian notion of space and time as a priori structures of perception having only subjective validity (though an ambitious philosopher might attempt to rewrite Kant in view of relativity and vice versa).Medieval ideas of space and time have nothing to do with Einstein. The Plotinian-Augustinian idea of time as distentio animi has only at most a very remote and vague affinity with Kant.

In short, historical differentiation of different styles of thought, all positioned in very different intellectual universes, has to be developed if we are to avoid illegitimate amalgamations. Heidegger was good on this, as when he discerned that a world divides the Logos of Heraclitus from the Johannine Logos.I am not sure if even professional theologians have fully realized the necessity of hermeneutics, despite the theological origins of that discipline.

A lot of Ratzinger's phobia of the tyranny of relativism is predicated on his failure to acquire hermeneutical sophistication.

I agree with the necessity of hermeneutics but think we should remember we're all looking at the same universe, just separated by space or time. I think the Pope is more afraid of recognizing the fact that creation is essentially good.

If you have an itch, you scratch it. Sometimes this is a bad idea, sometimes good, and usually just neutral. At least it is a response to external stimuli, even when it is almost reflex. Best is an attempt to understand how the response fits with the stimulus, which is what hermeneutics is about. No good to scratching poison ivy, it just aggravates and propagates the itch. Good to scratch the footfalls of a fly before it bites and creates a greater itch.I find it best to position scratching in its context. Medieval ideas may be farther out, but Einstein thought with Cartesian spaces, which do owe much to medieval concepts of space-time. I would be interested in how Kantian aprioris about space-time could adapt to relativity; what structure is left when space and time are relative? That seems to be the question of the day. Is it only unchaotic chaos, like infinities tamed through calculus? Or do we learn other ways to face the infinite, the chaotic chaos?

From Wikipedia:Christian theologians saw Cantor's work as a challenge to the uniqueness of the absolute infinity in the nature of God.[4] In particular, Neo-Thomist thinkers saw the existence of an actual infinity that consisted of something other than God as jeopardizing "God's exclusive claim to supreme infinity".[49] Cantor strongly believed that this view was a misinterpretation of infinity, and was convinced that set theory could help correct this mistake:[50] ... the transfinite species are just as much at the disposal of the intentions of the Creator and His absolute boundless will as are the finite numbers.[51] Note the conflation of thought-objects, at least as described here, with external reality. To me, this is like the ontological proof of God's existence, which tries to conjure the divine into existence through language In any event, the Wiki entry doesn't seem to make Ann's careful distinction between a concept as a 'tool' for thinking about God and the reality of the divine, which can't be snared in such nets.

Scratch an itch? Wise physicians counsel the application of an unguent.

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