Monday, October 13, 2014

If Only The Neo-Trads Knew The Tradition!

Bl. John Henry Newman

patron of change in the 

I picked up the following from one of the katholic krazy blogs ( who cites Father Ray Blake, pastor of Saint Mary Magdalene in Brighton, England:
I really am beginning to think that the Papacy, which Vatican II saw as the unitative, if it becomes innovative becomes self-destructive. The very purpose of the Papacy is to conserve that which was handed on to it. In the first millennium the faith of the City of the Two Apostles stood still whilst the world revolved, its lack of innovation made it the touchstone of orthodoxy during the Arian and Iconoclastic crisis and enabled it to be the memory of the Tradition of the whole Church. If the Church of Rome becomes the source of innovation can it also be the touchstone of unity? If not where can we find that unity, which after all was promised us by Christ? Can it exist outside of unity with Rome? The answer Orthodoxy and 'ultra-Catholics' come up with is that it exists within the Tradition itself, are ordinary Catholics going to come up with the same answer?
 Father Blake is no historian (and certainly no theologian) if he seriously thinks that the Church of Rome has historically stood changeless in its Apostolic Faith in an ever changing world. Whatever was he doing in Church history class in seminary?  I hope he did better in his systematic theology and moral theology.  Peter and Paul never heard the word “Trinity” but over the first four centuries the Church of Rome and those Churches in communion with it gradually began to articulate their understanding that the Godhead involves a communion-in-love of three Divine Persons.  “Light from Light, True God from True God” has certainly been the faith from the beginning, but it took three centuries to be articulated not only in those words, but in that particular concept. (The words actually were Φῶς ἐκ Φωτός,
Θεὸν ἀληθινὸν ἐκ Θεοῦ ἀληθινοῦ,  and the concept has not been a stable concept as the Catholic faith has gone on to deepen both the explanation and understanding of those Greek words meant over the years.)  When Peter and Paul led their Church in “The Breaking of the Bread” (“Mass” is something that comes much later) they did so in Greek (Peter possibly in Aramaic) not Latin.   The apostles were not familiar with our practice of private confession and absolution.  Baptism was by immersion.  There was no distinct rite of confirmation, nor of “Christian Marriage” either. They did not think in terms of what we mean by “sacrament.”    The Apostles would never have seen a cross on the altar—and for that matter, would not have been familiar with Christian altars—only wooden tables.  They used leavened bread for the Eucharist and most likely every day cups of pottery or glass.   They did not wear special vestments for “the Breaking of the Bread,” would not have been familiar with “communion in one kind,” and would have been familiar with “communion in the hand.”  They did not know the word “transubstantiation;” it would have baffled Peter and Paul—whose philosophic training was not Aristotelian but neo-Platonic, would have rejected the term out of hand to explain the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.   Indeed for Paul, the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist would have been dependent on what was for him the fundamental Presence of Christ in his Body, the Church, and not be seen as something distinct.  Neither Peter nor Paul would know what a tabernacle or a monstrance was.  They would have been appalled at religious statues as a violation of the first commandment and seen them as a pagan innovation.  There was no monastic or religious life.   Perhaps the one innovation that is truly inexcusable was the adding of the Filioque to the Creed—something that the papacy long rejected but finally caved in on in the 11th century.  How dare the Pope unilaterally change a dogma defined by an Ecumenical Council!  But he did and the krazies, including Father Blake, would almost undoubtedly “go the mats” over it, otherwise it would have been changed back over the last fifty years.  I could go on and on—but I think the point is made.  Faith—both in doctrine and practice—evolves, develops, and does not remain static.  Yes there is “innovation.”  There always has been to make the ancient faith live in its contemporary world.  Faith in Jesus Christ is not something static but living. And we must be attentive to the leadings of the Holy Spirit in how change comes about and that attentiveness depends on three factors achieving harmony: the faith of the faithful (consensus fidelium), the intellectual discipline of the theologians, and the authority of the magisterium.  I am sorry that Father Blake and my krazy blogger aren’t happy with this, but some of us suffered under the stagnation (or at least the very slow pace) of the last two papacies and we stood, if not silent, faithful.  We most likely will find ourselves tried in patience again in a future papacy, but will stand—if not silent, then—faithful still.  So get over it Father Blake and krazy lady: you don’t have to be happy about it; you don’t have to keep your mouth shut, but in the end you do have to submit yourself to the authority of the Church. 
I remember reading the Catholic philosopher, Gabriel Marcel, when I was studying philosophy all those many years back.  Granted it was a Jesuit University, but Marcel has always been acknowledged as a Christian existentialist and an eminent Catholic thinker.  Marcel claimed in his book Creative Fidelity that change is an essential component to fidelity.  That precisely because the world is not a static reality, in order for us who are in the world to be faithful to the Eternal we must be in constant change.  It may be more clear to put it this way: As the ground beneath our feet shifts, to keep our eyes fixed on that which does not shift, we must shift our own position.  God and Truth do not change but if we remain static we will lose sight of the Unchanging precisely because the world in which we stand has changed.  So in the face of Father Blake’s claim that the Apostolic Church of Rome had never changed in its first millennium, may I offer from Blessed John Henry Newman (an authority, by the way on change and continuity in the Apostolic and post-Apostolic Church): To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.


  1. Your description of the apostolic church seems close to the Anglican reform with which you seem to be uncomfortable. I can't wait until you get back to your interesting look at the Anglican story.

  2. Wonderful analysis, for which many thanks.

  3. This is very interesting and I think largely correct. I would question, however, whether St. Paul can be said to to have been influenced by Neoplatonism if by that you mean the "eternal philosophy" associated with Plotinus and which had so much influence on the Greek church fathers, and via Augustine, on western thought as well.

  4. PS. At least on my computer, which is a standard HP laptop, whatever setting you have used for format in blogspot make it fairly hard to see the whole width of the blog.

    1. Paul
      I am sorry that you have trouble seeing the whole width of the blog. this is the first time I have had that complaint from anyone so I am not sure how prevalent it is Nor do I know quite what to do about it I am a digital immigrant, more a stranger in paradise, really when it comes to technology As to your first point, yes, neo-Platonism is associated with Plotinus and Plotinus, of course, postdates Paul and so certainly could not have influenced him, but Greek thought had certainly devolved from pure Platonism over the four centuries between the great philosopher and the Apostle. Those fellows with whom Paul disputes on the Areopagus certainly did not represent pure Platonic thought. The Philosophic system which Plotinus articulates was not, I believe, original to him—though he certainly systematizes and articulates it well—but builds on this mutation of Plato’s’ thought. But you are right and perhaps it would have been better for me to say that Paul's philosophical world-view was shaped by post-Platonic Greek thought. I concede that neo-Platonism could be somewhat of an anachronism