Pray Brethren

Pray Brethren

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Character-Giving Sacraments of Election and Representation

There are many ways to categorize the sacraments. The most common approach, as found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is to group Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist together as the “Sacraments of Initiation” while placing Holy Orders and Matrimony together as the “Sacraments of Service” and grouping Confession and Anointing together as the “Sacraments of Healing”. There are three sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders), however, that impart something unique: an indelible mark called a character. A character is a seal placed on the soul for all eternity – remaining even if one commits a mortal sin, loses all grace, and separates himself from God. Indeed, some theologians have postulated that the souls in hell who bear the divine seal will be signs of enhanced shame and the seal a cause of greater torment.

In each of the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders God elects us – chooses us, calls us, and draws us into and ordered orbit in and around His Son. These sacraments also give us a unique representational status – a representation culminating in Holy Orders through which those men God elects are so representational that when they speak in the sacraments they speak in Persona Christ, in the very person of Christ. Of these men, Jesus says: “Whoever hears you, hears me.” Thus, if we were to group these three character-giving sacraments together, we might call them the “Sacraments of Election and Representation”.

A helpful analogy for the unique electoral-representational character of these sacraments is the atom. As you may recall from science class, the atom is composed of a nucleus center (made of protons and neutrons) around which orbit elections. Free elections may be drawn into orbit around the nucleus and we typically find larger numbers of elections in the orbits (or “shells”) further away from the nucleus at the atom’s heart. While this is obviously not the complete story of atomic structure and interaction, it paints a useful picture for our understanding of the Sacraments of Election and Representation. Analogously speaking, our current depiction of the atom becomes a depiction of Jesus Christ the New Adam.

As the atom consists of the nucleus and its orbiting elections, the New Adam is found in both its nuclear head as well as its elect body. Unlike the Pauline head-body analogy, however, the atomic Adam, so to speak, offers us a further sacramental structure. As the atom draws free elections into its orbit, the New Adam elects and draws us into his outer orbit first and foremost through the Sacrament of Baptism. Baptism binds us to Christ in a similar way that elections enter into an orbit around the nucleus. What’s more, we who are among the elect and have been drawn into the New Adam through baptism now stand before God in Christ as the representatives of the human race.

Our bond is rendered more complete and perfect through the Sacrament of Confirmation, the next orbit towards the nucleus. And if Baptism makes us representatives in Christ of humanity, the Catechism teaches that Confirmation makes us “quasi-official representatives” of the Church, the body of Christ, in order to proclaim the Gospel and draw others into the atomic Adam. Or to use Biblical terms, the first born son is the father’s representative to the younger children and the younger children’s representative to the father. We who are joined to Christ through Baptism and Confirmation share in this role as adoptive sons in the one Son. Lastly, of those confirmed men, God elects a portion into the closest orbit, so close that they can uniquely speak and act in his name and he can act sacramentally through them.

While every image breaks down at some point, the "New Adam-atom" nevertheless offers us another way to examine the unique character (no pun intended) of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders, while also helping us take another look at those two central - yet often overlooked - categories of Christian theology: election and representation.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Vatican I: “The Really Radical Council”

While Vatican II is rightly described as revolutionary, scholar Russell Hittinger (University of Tulsa) and writer John O’Malley (What Happened at Vatican II) reveal the far more radical character of the First Vatican Council and the effect it had on the relationship between church and state.

Although most people are under the impression that Vatican II gave more power to the laity, O’Malley reminds us that the laity “enjoyed their strongest position in the first eight councils” of the Church. It was Constantine who called the Council of Nicaea, declaring himself an “external bishop” who claimed the authority to govern the temporal affairs of both the state and the church (e.g. leadership over councils, appointment of bishops, etc). At the Council of Chalcedon, nineteen imperial envoys were given special status, seated on an elevated platform at the center of the gathering. Lay involvement was not limited only to emperors and envoys: it was a Byzantine empress who convoked the Second Council of Nicaea in 787.

As the locations of ecumenical councils shifted from east to west, lay involvement in conciliar affairs continued. King Philip IV, for example, dominated the Council of Vienne, while in the latter middle ages professional lay theologians were sometimes allowed to vote during the councils themselves. These laymen were even given their own congregation at the Council of Trent – the final council prior to the twin Vatican Councils.

Three hundred and seven years passed between the conclusion of the Council of Trent in 1563 and the short-lived First Vatican Council of 1870. During this time, the Church experienced the traumatic wars following the Reformation, the rise of the nation states, the Enlightenment’s darkness, the brutality of the French Revolution, the atheist reign of Napoleon, and the end of both the Holy Roman Empire and the Papal States – which were replaced respectively by the newly unified nations of Germany and Italy.

The rule of the old kings and emperors of Europe, who saw themselves as “external bishops” in the mold of Constantine, was succeeded by the rising nation states. This ultimately forced the Church to make a very difficult choice: maintain the last vestiges of Christendom by allowing new governing bodies to inherit the ecclesial authority of deposed Catholic kings, or, at great risk, declare Christendom dead, thus severing all ties between church and state. The decision to follow the latter course is the reason Hittinger declares that Vatican I “is really the radical council, not Vatican II.”

In 1870, it was the Catholic Church – not a government shaped by the Enlightenment – that finally imposed the separation of church and state.

The writing was on the wall before the council even began. O’Malley states that when the council was called, “Catholic monarchs were urged to promote the success of the council, [but] they were not invited to attend or participate, and no lay person of any status took an active part in the council.” This act was a first step towards what Hittinger bluntly calls “a writ of divorce” between church and state. In response, three countries threatened to send troops to break up the council – but it continued nonetheless.

Besides defining the more well-known Dogma of Papal Infallibility, Vatican I declared the universal jurisdiction the Holy See, doing so precisely because it declared independence from the temporal affairs of the state. Thus the Church freely gave up any ambitions of temporal power and in turn declared her universal spiritual power as the Church amidst the nations.

Christendom was dead, and the Catholic Church killed it.

Retribution, of course, was swift. Only Belgium and Ireland approved of the council’s teaching. Meanwhile the larger nations of France and Germany confiscated church property and imprisoned half of the Church’s clergy respectively. But the Church was free in a way she hadn’t been since Constantine’s Edict of Milan in 313. O’Malley writes that the fruits of the council included the resurgence of religious orders, increased missionary activity, and the best-catechized laity in Church history.

To learn more on how Vatican II picked up where Vatican I left off, check out John O’Malley’s book, and Dr. Russell Hittinger’s Lumen Christi Institute talk, on Vatican II.