Skip to content

New Monasticism: 12 Marks of a New Ecclesial Frame of Reference

As some of you might know, I am a member of an intentional community that is part of what now seems to be a movement known as “a new monasticism.” In the midst of conflicts in North America between boomer-populated, largely affluent seeker-sensitive megachurches and their emergent, pomo, twentysomething counterparts, I find this new monastic movement to be a source of more substantial, creative, and fundamentally embodied ecclesial living.

Of course I am thoroughly biased in this evaluation, given my location within the congregational life of a community that for the most part fits the new monastic orientation. This frame of reference is shaped by 12 Marks which a variety of practitioners from various ecclesial communities and academics formulated through discussion together a few years back. Here is the manifesto, if you will of the new monasticism.

Moved by God’s Spirit in this time called America to assemble at St. Johns Baptist Church in Durham, NC, we wish to acknowledge a movement of radical rebirth, grounded in God’s love and drawing on the rich tradition of Christian practices that have long formed disciples in the simple Way of Christ. This contemporary school for conversion which we have called a “new monasticism,” is producing a grassroots ecumenism and a prophetic witness within the North American church which is diverse in form, but characterized by the following marks:

1) Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire.
2) Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us.
3) Hospitality to the stranger
4) Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities combined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation.
5) Humble submission to Christ’s body, the church.
6) Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the community along the lines of the old novitiate.
7) Nurturing common life among members of intentional community.
8) Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children.
9) Geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life.
10) Care for the plot of God’s earth given to us along with support of our local economies.
11) Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew 18.
12) Commitment to a disciplined contemplative life.

May God give us grace by the power of the Holy Spirit to discern rules for living that will help us embody these marks in our local contexts as signs of Christ’s kingdom for the sake of God’s world.

I plan to post more on this shortly. I think the practice of a new monasticism is going to be a vital part of the renewal of the church in this time. In fact, it was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who first made such an observation when considering the future of Germany after the war:

The restoration of the church will surely come from a sort of new monasticism which has in common with the old only the uncompromising attitude of a life lived according to the Sermon on the Mount in the following of Christ. I believe it is now time to call people to this. (Letter to Karl-Friedrich Bonhoeffer, January 14, 1935 in A Testament to Freedom, p. 424)

I think Bonhoeffer was quite right about this, not only in regard to post-war Germany, but in regard to all of the post-Christendom church. I am glad this movement now exists and is gaining more notice in theological circles, despite all the dangers that attend becoming a “movement.” There are many communities of such practitioners across the country who are finding a vibrant ecclesial home within a new, post-Christendom and post-clerical monasticism.

A few questions for reflection:

How could the monastic practice of making vows inform contemporary church life? Should it?

What practices are necessary for a post-clerical monasticism, which is congregational rather than centered on an Abbott or Abbess?

How does/can monasticism contribute to the church’s witness in this culture?

Is living under a rule truly possible or desirable for protestant Christians?

14 Comments

  1. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    Thanks for sharing this Halden. I think you are right that Bonhoeffer was calling for something like this new monasticism. He was ultimately concerned about calling Christians to once again speak the truth of the gospel.

    I have been thinking more about being Christian and American. I am realizing more and more that we need God to save us from our worship of America. I don’t think this primarily means a change in political views, though this must happen, I think we are in need of redemption.

    I think that pledging my alliegance to the flag every morning throughout elementary school has had a profound impact on me. If liturgy has any power, then we who have spent time worshipping America are in need of God’s liberation.

    I think communities like the “new monasticism” are places where Christians (former-Americans) can start a new life and worship truthfully.

    Thursday, February 22, 2007 at 3:08 pm | Permalink
  2. Ben wrote:

    Howdy. (from Texas, see.)

    I found your blog via your Amazon reviews of von Balthasar’s books, which I am attempting to read… slowly.

    You seem intelligent and well read, and I see you are in this monastic-style community, and so I wanted to ask you something, not as an attack or anything like that, but I am honestly mystified:

    Why do monastic communities like yours try to re-create so much of what the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox have had since the beginning? Why not simply join the RCs or EOs and thus be unified with an objectively apostolic Church?

    I hope I am not coming across as rude or ignorant, it’s just very strange to me. I had a friend join a similar community, she was telling me all about the liturgical calendar and vespers etc etc, I was happy that she was getting into a deeper historical understanding of the Church, but I asked her, “So, is this a Catholic thing? Or like… an Orthodox thing?”

    She said neither. I didn’t know what to say.

    Keep up the great book reviews.

    Ben
    bgeorge77 at gmail.

    Saturday, February 24, 2007 at 8:18 am | Permalink
  3. Halden wrote:

    Hi Ben,

    Thanks for the comment. I think your question is a good one. Indeed it goes to the heart of the major questions that I think we should all face in our search for the ecclesial home that is truly reflective of the gospel.

    In all honesty sometimes I dream of becoming Catholic and I have great sympathies toward that tradition.

    That said, I don’t think that my current ecclesial setting is so much trying to recapture aspects of the Roman Catholic or Orthodox traditions as it is trying to be faithful to the gospel. In other words, we, a free church group of protestants started living this way long before we read Benedict’s Rule and then subesquently found a point of commonality with him and the monastic tradition.

    Another key point is that there’s a reason that this “movement” is called the New Monasticism. There are a lot of important discontinuities with the old monasticism along with the convergences. We are not a celibate order, we are not clerically structured around an abbott. We have a pretty big problem with the sacrament of orders and the way in which canon law functions in the Catholic Church. We have similar problems with the primacy of the bishop in the Orthodox tradition. In short, we are protestant, as ambigious as I may feel about protestant identity! So, in essence, we are doing what we are doing, not out of a desire to reconnect to Rome per se (though, I long for the day when a strucutral echaristic communion will exist between all Christians).

    As for some of the elements of our form of ecclesial life that seem characteristic of Catholicism, things like the liturgical calendar, the lectionary are not original to Rome or Constantinople. They are followed by countless protestant churches throughout the world.

    I hope that answers your question in a roundabout sort of way. The reason we are living this kind of ecclesial life in this way is because we see it as the right way to repent from the idolatries of the culture we inhabit. If that puts us closer to Christians of other traditions and draws us toward rapproachment with Rome and Constantinople, praise be, but while we certainly have much to learn from them, we think they might have some things to learn from us as well.

    Monday, February 26, 2007 at 7:13 pm | Permalink
  4. Ben wrote:

    Thank you for your thoughtful reply to my question.

    Well, I can certainly agree that everyone has a lot to learn from everyone! (eg. It was evangelical friends who taught me to be more enthusiastic about singing and about Biblical study.)

    That being said, I think that any group of professed Christians not in objectively real communion with an objectively apostolic Church is simply engaging at a romantic reconstruction of “the perfect church” –certainly something with which I can sympathize, but also something that has all the reality of an internet girlfriend.

    To rephrase in the form of a question, rather than my pontification (sorry!) let me ask you these: Is an “ecclesia” a plastic arrangement? Are its forms communicable outside of physical contact? Are there or should there be definite in/out boundries? Is historical continuity part of its Gospel essence? (As a silly hypothetical: Suppose your group had some Book of Agreed Dogma, and you lost it, and a thousand years later a guy found it, and then moved to the moon and started a church there, would that church be part of your church?)

    Ut unum sint, in the desert of Lent,

    Ben

    Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 4:37 pm | Permalink
  5. Halden wrote:

    Ben,

    I can agree with the notion that all Christians must be in communion with “an objectively apostolic Church” as far as it goes. However that simply takes us to the root of the debate between protestants and catholics. What does it mean for us to stand in continuity with apostolic doctrine and tradition? For the Catholic it means communion with the bishop of Rome. For the Protestant (ideally) it means conformity to the Word of God as received within the tradition. So, the Protestant response to the Catholic question is that “objectively real communion” indeed exists, and must exist in any church. But it denies that such communion is constituted by the historic episcopate. In other words, it belongs to the bene esse, not the esse of the church.

    Now, as to your specific questions, no the the church is not a plastic arrangement, at least insofar as the church is faithful. And no, the church’s form is not communicable, at least in its fullness outside of physical contact. Yes, there should be definite in/out boundaries. Historical continuity all hinges on what one means by it. I would say that indeed it does belong to the gospel essence, if by that we mean that the church’s gospel proclamation and form of life today must cohere with the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles. If by historical continuity we mean the catholic story of apostolic succession and papal primacy, then we are dealing with a very different question indeed.

    The “internet girlfriend” remark is apropos, but I’d honestly like to turn the question back on you. I don’t see how 20 people, living in proximity, sharing life, resources, and time together, who practice mutual discipleship, confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation in any way lacks “reality.” What could be more real and concrete than living, local community? This is no romantic reconstruction, but the actual fleshing out of a life of discipleship that we pursue as a body.

    Now, I would ask, how does the average catholic layperson evade this question? I can go to mass, take the eucharist and perform all the standard practices of the church and none of that necessarily says anything about how I order my finances, where I live, who my friends are and what I choose for my career. For all the “objectively real” and visible ethos of the catholic church, it seems to me that in many cases the praxis of that faith as far is its congregants go has little more reality than an internet girlfriend (not that this is different from most protestants).

    To sum it up a different way, talk about the objectively real communion of the Catholic church sounds great on paper. But, when it comes to actual concreteness in the living out of the praxis of discipleship in ways that truly involve physical contact, and non-plastic arrangement, I find it very lacking. I could easily be a catholic laypeson, and without any scrutiny or calling of my life into question, structure my lifestyle pretty much however I wanted. This is not to say that most protestant churches are not doing exactly the same thing. But, I don’t think its accurate to ascribe such a carte blanche level of objectivity to the catholic communion. As far as the life of the local conregation is concerned(which I take to be what the NT references to ‘church’ are referring to), I don’t see how continuity with Rome establishes the substantive, concrete koinonia that constitutes the church.

    Thanks for the continued, spirited discussion.

    Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 5:10 pm | Permalink
  6. Ben wrote:

    Hey Halden– Full and thought-provoking response, thank you!

    By “objective historical continuity,” I am focusing mainly on apostolic succession, the papacy being only a “special case” of that. By “apostolic succession”, I am talking about physical, hands on, person-to-person sacramental contact.

    By my “internet girlfriend” quip, I didn’t mean to imply that what you are doing in your community is somehow a big sham, but simply that, objectively-concretely speaking, it is outside of the historical continuity of the Church. Hmm… that doesn’t really explain it either…

    An anecdote: I was listening to some Catholic talk-radio thing one time, and a guy who said he was a Neo-pagan called in to excoriate the host for what “Catholics did to my community in the Middle Ages.” By “his community”, he meant European folk-spiritualists who had been persecuted. I thought to myself, “In what way is this modern day man a ‘member’ of that ‘community’? If by reading some books he comes to hold 100% of the same opinions as did they, does that make him a ‘member’?”

    Is the ‘Church’ a collection of teachings? Or a continuous collection of people? Or a continuous collection of people who hold to certain teachings?

    I hear ya on the lukewarm Catholics that one will find by the SUV-full any given Sunday (if they’re even going to Mass), they are–in more ways than one–the everlasting Cross of Christ. But lukewarmness is a very easy criticism to make from the point of view of a member of a self-selected, highly motivated community, where each member is there because they specifically choose to be there. Even within the Catholic and Orthodox Church you will have people who pride themselves on their orthodoxy and right-thinking. They ask of someone, “Is he orthodox? Is he a real Catholic?” I think that such ecclesiology is uncharitable to say the least.

    I’d like to compare good apples and good apples apples here. In a generation or so, your movement will have the same problem with lukewarm, enculturated members as mine–currently though, from what you say, it seems to be a shining example of Gospel seriousness and committment. Compare this to any similarly committed Catholic or Orthodox movement/order/milieu.

    In your opinion, what are the differences?

    (PS. Partly on the strength of your reviews, I have begun reading Balthasar’s trilogy, starting with Glory of the Lord.)

    Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 8:12 pm | Permalink
  7. Halden wrote:

    Ben,

    If I can boil down your question, and let me know if I get it wrong, it sounds like your asking if theological concensus can establish historical continuity. Because that’s basically the protestant contention, namely that the church at the time of the reformation was doctrinal abberrant and needed to be reformed.

    However, I think that protestant ecclesiology, at its best contends, not that the church is made by its beliefs, but by the Word and Spirit and maintained throug the preaching of the Sciptures and the sacraments.

    So, I certainly wouldn’t say that the church is a collection of teachings. No, the church is a people who share a common faith in Jesus and a commitment to follow him. The question, is what is the nature of the diachronic continuity of that people throughout history? What does it mean to be in continuity with the Apostles? Here is where the question of apostolic succession lies. As a Protestant, I always find myself asking which account of apostolic succession one means. The Orthodox and the Catholics have very different accounts thereof. Which is right? How do we decide?

    I think both Catholics and Protestants agree that the church is one, only through the Spirit, who works through the church. It is ultimately the Spirit that constitutes the church as church. However, the Catholic assumption is basically that the Spirit works solely through the Magisterium. I simply question that, theologically speaking. Is the Spirit completely subsumed within the ecclesial hierarchy? Can the church err and stifle the Spirit? Those are the kind of questions that the protestant asks, and we still get uncertain aswers from our Catholic brethren.

    The other point I’d make is that while I think we’re using similar language about the necessary “physical, hands on, person-to-person” dynamic of what makes the church, we’re talking about different things. From my perspective, the church is fundamentally a local and congregational reality and it is within that context that such sacramental mediation takes place. For the Catholic, though, the sacramental mediation is something that happens in a hierarchical superstructure which ultimately stems from Rome. The actual congregations are thus in communion, only as part of this holistic superstructure. The reality of the church, then is guaranteed by this hierarchy, rather than through a network of local churches in communion with one another.

    As I see it, this is at once to say too much and too little. Too much in that it demands that congregations, which I take to be the centers from which communion is forged in relation to other congregations find their unity, not through relationship with one another, but through partaking in a structural hierarchy. It also says too little in that being part of this hierarchy together in no way demands or establishes real unity. To speak anecdotally, the Italians and the Irish may both be Catholics, but they’ll still kick each other’s asses when not in the pews. Again, this is also true for many protestants, but my point is simply that structural unity does not establish true relational unity. And that is the unity that I think Jesus speaks about when he prays that “they may be one as we are one.” Here he speaks of the church being unified together in a way that mirrors the loving relational union of the Father and the Son. The form of that unity, is not primarily structural, but relational. That is where a lot of the disconnect often is, I think in the discussions about unity.

    Now, I certainly would want to compare good apples to good apples, but I’m afraid I don’t know of many examples from the Catholic or Orthodox traditions that are akin to what we’re doing. I mean there are Catholic Workers, and of course Monastics, but I think this phenomenon is a bit different from those, though we have much in common. Perhaps you can help me if you know of some.

    And I’m glad to hear that you’re reading Balthasar. I haven’t slogged through the Glory of the Lord yet, but I’ve read the Theo-Drama and a number of his other boks. Phenomenal stuff.

    Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 9:00 pm | Permalink
  8. Ben wrote:

    it sounds like your asking if theological concensus can establish historical continuity.

    Yes, well, that, and also, if not, what is the continuity of the Church?

    However, I think that protestant ecclesiology, at its best contends, not that the church is made by its beliefs, but by the Word and Spirit and maintained throug the preaching of the Sciptures and the sacraments.

    I guess I don’t see how that’s definitionally different from the Catholic and Orthodox conception (keeping in mind we hold apostolic succession to be a sacrament), though, obviously the overwhelming majority of non-academic Protestant thought and teaching is light on the sacraments, to put it mildly.

    The Orthodox and the Catholics have very different accounts thereof. Which is right? How do we decide?

    I don’t see that they have different accounts at all. The Catholic/Orthodox debate, to use a sports analogy, is about whether the papacy ball is in-bounds or out-of-bounds, not about whether there is a boundry line nor about what the rules are nor about what sport we are playing.

    Both hold that the Church is, basically, a sort of “hypostatic union” of the people and the teachings, of the particular and the universal, of the Mystical Body of Christ and the earthly ministerial institutions, and that the “sinews” of this body are the lines of apostolic succession. Christ, who came to meet us personally transmits his Church though space and time personally in apostolic succession–the persons of the bishops being the guarantee of that succession (though not the whole of the Church by any means.)

    However, the Catholic assumption is basically that the Spirit works solely through the Magisterium. I simply question that, theologically speaking.

    I would as well, were that the Catholic position. The Catholics hold that the Holy Spirit works though the Church, the visible boundaries of which are not necessarily the full boundaries. The Catholics, for their part, hold that the Orthodox still have all valid sacraments, and in fact hold that even Protestant baptisms are valid sacramentally.

    Is the Spirit completely subsumed within the ecclesial hierarchy?

    No.

    Can the church err and stifle the Spirit?

    Her ministers can err in their personal sin, as do all humans, but the Church in her wholeness is holy because Christ is holy, and does not err.

    Those are the kind of questions that the protestant asks, and we still get uncertain aswers from our Catholic brethren.

    I guess it depends on who you ask, anyone with a basic level of Catholic education should have no problem with those concepts.

    The reality of the church, then is guaranteed by this hierarchy, rather than through a network of local churches in communion with one another.

    Again, I think that you misstate the catholic postition. A good document to read on this point is Lumen Gentium, from the Catholic standpoint, and Fr. Florovsky’s Catholicity of the Church for an Orthodox view. (By they way, I suspect you’ve heard of Florovsky, but if not, he is a megastar in 20th century Orthodox theology, he is the mentor of Zizioulas. More of his stuff.)

    To speak anecdotally, the Italians and the Irish may both be Catholics, but they’ll still kick each other’s asses when not in the pews.

    I wasn’t aware that there was currently an Italo-gaelic asskicking crisis, but insofar as those individual Italians/Irish unrepentantly kickass, they have seperated themselves from the communion of the Body of Christ and must be reconciled. This is the same in any group, yours, mine, and everyone. Our petty and no-so-petty grievances are a constant strain. (Aside: Homer and Bart go to “Catholic Heaven.”

    my point is simply that structural unity does not establish true relational unity. And that is the unity that I think Jesus speaks about when he prays that “they may be one as we are one.”

    Well, but that can’t be, because in that case there can be no such thing as a church larger than, say, 100 or so people, because then in what way would the members of a larger chuch really be said to have true relational unity? In this High Priestly Prayer, Christ’s words are not just of personal unity, personal reconciliation, though they are certainly that. He is praying for his Church.

    If one of your co-communitarians, “Bill” decided with the blessings of the group to go found another group in another city, would then that new group be part of your group or not? What if you never met them? Would Bill still be part of your church? Would Bill be part of his newly founded church? What “true relational unity” does Bill’s or any existant church then have with “the Church”, or specifically, with a group of Christians living in 8th/12th/20th/31st century India/Syria/France? I hope I’m not being a dullard here.

    I’m afraid I don’t know of many examples from the Catholic or Orthodox traditions that are akin to what we’re doing.

    Gosh, well just currently speaking there’s the Catholic Workers, Maryknoll, Archbishop Romero-inspired groups, Opus Dei, Foccolare, Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, just to name a tiny sliver of the thousands and thousands of groups. In the two thousand years of catholic and orthodox Christian life I’m sure that there are many models that approximate your group’s. If you describe your group to me, or show me a website or something, I might have a better idea of your community’s goals/ethos.

    Friday, March 2, 2007 at 6:46 pm | Permalink
  9. Halden wrote:

    Christ, who came to meet us personally transmits his Church though space and time personally in apostolic succession–the persons of the bishops being the guarantee of that succession…

    Well, I just can’t go there with you on that one, Ben. I think that Christ left behind a community that was bound together by his Word and practices and sustained by the Spirit. However, I just don’t believe that he set up a succession of bishops to safeguard that community’s existence.

    I do think there are differences in the Catholic/Orthodox accounts of apostolic succession that you’re not acknowledging. Now, Rome acknowledges the Orthodox as having a valid sucession, but the Orthodox do not return the favor.

    I do agree with much of what you said about the holiness of the church as the body of Christ, and thanks for some of your nuances. I have read Zizioulas at length and Kalisos Ware and other Orthodox thinkers. And Ratzinger, Balthasar, de Lubac, and Tillard from the Catholics, all of whom I love.

    About relational unity, that’s why I think that individual congregations should be small. Given the kind of relational intimacy that is described of the church in the NT, I think that’s reall the right way to do it. The church is unified on a macro scale by being eucharistically open to other churches. Thus, unity proceeds from the bottom up, rather than the top down, so to speak.

    Again, let me make clear that I have great sympathy for Catholicism, indeed earlier today one of my professors accused me of being a closet Catholic as we were discussing the relationship between the Spirit, the individual, and the church!

    Friday, March 2, 2007 at 7:27 pm | Permalink
  10. Ben wrote:

    Well, I just can’t go there with you on that one, Ben. I think that Christ left behind a community that was bound together by his Word and practices and sustained by the Spirit. However, I just don’t believe that he set up a succession of bishops to safeguard that community’s existence.

    Not to play apologetics 101, but it seems obvious to me, at least, that apostolic succession was quite crucial to the early Church’s understanding of itself. If the notion of apostolic succession was an unwarranted elaboration, then it is an elaboration that was invented quite early in the history of the Church.

    What do you make of Christ’s saying, “he who rejects you [the apostles] rejects me, and who rejects me rejects the one who sent me,” or other typical apostolic succession ‘prooftexts’?

    I do think there are differences in the Catholic/Orthodox accounts of apostolic succession that you’re not acknowledging. Now, Rome acknowledges the Orthodox as having a valid sucession, but the Orthodox do not return the favor.

    Again, debates about in-bounds, out-of-bounds. I’d like to hear what you think the unrecconcilable or difficult essential differences are in the two accounts.

    About relational unity, that’s why I think that individual congregations should be small.

    Amen, I can certainly agree with you there. Or, if not small congregations, small groups within the congregations that interlink. I am against mega-congregations, though, unfortunately, given the stinginess and nominalism of so many cultural Catholics, sometimes that is necessary–and yet it seems to perpetuate the problems it tries to solve! Agh, what stubborn people we can be.

    , unity proceeds from the bottom up, rather than the top down, so to speak.

    Yes, indeed. While it may not always be evident from the practices of the Catholic or even Orthodox Churches, I do think that this is the way that they conceive of themselves, ecclesiologically speaking. The figure of the Pope of Rome should I think serve as a link among all these Churches along the “prima intra pares” lines, less monarchial than he has been in the past, perhaps more conciliar, so that we are not in the position of “forcing bottum-upness from the top.”

    Again, let me make clear that I have great sympathy for Catholicism,

    I can tell, it’s why I like to ask you your opinion as a Protestant about things, I sense your fairness.

    Monday, March 5, 2007 at 8:33 pm | Permalink
  11. Halden wrote:

    Not to play apologetics 101, but it seems obvious to me, at least, that apostolic succession was quite crucial to the early Church’s understanding of itself. If the notion of apostolic succession was an unwarranted elaboration, then it is an elaboration that was invented quite early in the history of the Church.

    Yes, it certainly was an early development. Though, I don’t know if the specific structures of the Catholic Church as we know it today have a direct correspondence to it (i.e. the see of Peter, etc.) But I wouldn’t say it was an unwarranted elaboration. The question is, is is part of the esse or the bene esse of the church? Right now, I see it as being the latter.

    What do you make of Christ’s saying, “he who rejects you [the apostles] rejects me, and who rejects me rejects the one who sent me,” or other typical apostolic succession ‘prooftexts’?

    On that text, it seems to me that the issue is who we understand the Apostles to representing when Jesus makes that statement. Does he mean them as the nucleus from which the clergy will emerge, or does he mean them as the nucleus of the church as a whole? Right now I’d lean towards the latter. I think Jesus is saying that whoever reject the church, his body is rejecting him. But I don’t think that necessarily implies anything about apostolic succession.

    Again, debates about in-bounds, out-of-bounds. I’d like to hear what you think the unrecconcilable or difficult essential differences are in the two accounts.

    Well, I’m not as up on the current ecumenical situation between the Catholic and Orthodox communions. My basic understanding of the Orthodox position, though is that they veiw the Catholic church as schismatic. For it to be genuinely part of the catolica for them, I think there would have to be a large structural union between both communions, and as we know they have issues with papal primacy.

    I’m with you on everything else you say. And, I must say that this discussion, among other readings has continued to make me unsettled about my “prostestant identity.” You’re certainly more than welcome to continue playing apologetics 101 with me!

    Monday, March 5, 2007 at 9:55 pm | Permalink
  12. Ben wrote:

    First, sorry for the delay in responding, I don’t have your speed of thought, I have to mull things over.

    The question is, is is part of the esse or the bene esse of the church? Right now, I see it as being the latter.

    Do you mean that you personally right now think thus? Or that apostolic succession is right now a bene esse? I suspect you mean the former, though, if the latter, what is different between “back then” and “right now”?

    All in all, I don’t understand the Protestant conception of what the Church is supposed to be. The workings of the Spirit? Well, the Spirit is the Spirit, the Church is the Church. Denying that the esse of the Church can be transmitted through human persons (bishops), well, it just seems to ruin the symmetry: Christ, who seems to be a mortal man, is in fact God in a hypostatic union of the human and divine. What seems to be plain bread and wine is that man’s Body and Blood. What seems to be a motley squad of fools is in fact the Church, the Bridegroom of the Lord. It’s hypostatic unions, all the way down. Protestantism, to me, seems simply to protest too much: “No way can some institution made up of people be the Church. No way can regular old bread be Christ’s body. No way can a regular man be God… Or, no, that one we believe.”

    The history of Protestantism seems to me to be a history of denying or diluting one “hypostatic union” after another: First by spiritualizing (or, say, ‘de-incarnating’) the concept of “the Church”, then most of the sacraments, then shortly thereafter the Eucharist (by most Protestants, anyway), and then, with liberal theology, Christ’s own divinity! Their history since then has been re-installing the “hypostatic unions” back into their theology: Barth et al banged home the unmitigated divinity of Christ, and it seems that since then Protestant thought has been engaged in a slow journey of rediscovering what was never forgotten by RCs and EOs. I expect the beginnings of a rediscovery of the doctrine of at least some kind of Real Presence in the Eucharist in the coming decade, preceeded by and coupled with a re-”real”ized sacramentality. Apostolic succession will be the last thing though–how to reclaim those lines once they’ve been so thoroughly erased? How to begin the search when those who actually objectively hold those lines have been a priori nixed from consideration?

    On that text, it seems to me that the issue is who we understand the Apostles to representing when Jesus makes that statement. Does he mean them as the nucleus from which the clergy will emerge, or does he mean them as the nucleus of the church as a whole?

    Good point, and I hadn’t really thought of it like that before, though of course a third option remains: “Both.” Either way, I don’t see what reason there is for preferring a church-as-a-whole interpretation, though I do see a reason for preferring a clergy-nucleus interpretation: The lived experience of it as such by the early Church. In all early discussions of the sacraments, ordination always makes the list.
    Moreover, why have apostles in the first place? Why say to Peter that he will be the rock upon which the Church is built? (I’m not arguing here for the papacy, I’m just saying, why would Christ tell ANY man that he would be some sort of foundational member to the Church?) What were the responsibilities of the apostles? Were the believers in Acts 2:42 wrong to look to the apostles to teach? Should they not rather have looked to their own hearts and read Scripture?

    Right now I’d lean towards the latter. I think Jesus is saying that whoever reject the church, his body is rejecting him.

    What could it mean to reject Christ’s Church? Who constitutes the Church? What doctrines are rejectable? If someone says, “No, I don’t reject the Church, I just hold it to mean this-and-that,” then who is to say he’s wrong?

    Well, I’m not as up on the current ecumenical situation between the Catholic and Orthodox communions.

    Again, it just boils down to who holds the succession, not what it is or why it’s important or even how it is done.

    You’re certainly more than welcome to continue playing apologetics 101 with me!

    Ha, well, I just mean to say I don’t like the old Bible verse ping-pong game, or the amateurish point-counterpoint cycles. I’ve learned a lot from reading your reviews, it was my uninformed assumption that Protestantism was a wasteland of health-and-wealth non-thought. I was certainly wrong about that!

    Thursday, March 8, 2007 at 8:28 pm | Permalink
  13. Halden wrote:

    Sorry about my delay in responding this time as well!

    Just a couple points in response.

    By “right now” I mean that at this point in my thinking, that’s what I think.

    You’ve certainly put your finger on the rub in protestantism. Everyone has a different idea of what the church is or should be. Often its a matter of great confusion and protestants deserve to be called to account for this fact.

    As to “hypostatic unions”, I think that’s a crucial issue. Is the church really in hypostatic union with Christ? If so, that seems to collapse Christ into the church too much. To be sure it is his body, but he is the head and must remain primary over the church. I certainly insist that the church does participate in Christ’s being, but it is the unio mystica, not the unio hypostatica that brings this about. Our union with Christ is an act of the Spirit, to unite us to Christ, not as being suffused into his personhood, but a graced participation in his identity in the Triune life.

    I think that’s an important distinction. Protestantism can go much to far in emphasizing the discontinuity between Christ and the church, but Catholicism, I think bears the danger of collapsing them into one another to such a degree that Christ cannot stand over against and critique the church in its failings. After all, while the church is a “divine humanity”, it is still a fallen humanity and cannot be thought perfect until the eschaton.

    About liberal prostestantism, I’d just point out that you’ve got the same thing in the Catholic church. Ever read Schillebeeckx?

    And I agree, that we should look to the apostles, rather than to our own hearts for doctrine. However, I see the apostolic doctrine as contained within the new testament and the rule of faith. And we should remember that the Bereans in the early church were praised for examining the apostles teaching to see if it was consistent with Scripture.

    Thursday, March 15, 2007 at 4:44 pm | Permalink
  14. Deep Furrows wrote:

    Halden,

    I just discovered this post, having found you via Faith and Theology. I hope you don’t mind my skipping the polemics to respond to a couple of the questions you ask.

    One of the resources for post- clerical monasticism may be pre- clerical monasticism, something Balthasar discusses in his book, The Laity and the Life of the Counsels (Ignatius: 2003).

    What Balthasar says about the vows is critical. The vows offer a form of life that embodies the ever- greater call of Christ in the counsels of the Gospels (current documents refer to this as the total gift of self); the rule, then, is a helpful guide in following this form of life on a daily basis.

    The rise of movements and secular institutes in the RCC today is really a renewal of lay forms of the life of the evangelical counsels (lay monasticism if you will – although I find this term misleading).

    Good luck!
    Fred

    Wednesday, March 21, 2007 at 4:45 am | Permalink

Switch to our mobile site