Friday, October 5, 2012

Droppings from the Catholic Birdcage: "Are You Even Aware That the Catholic Church IS Jesus Christ?"

In the thread following Commonweal's recent editorial commemorating the 50th anniversary of Vatican II, a reader named Patricia takes a fellow Catholic to task by asking, 

Michael are you even aware that the Catholic Church IS Jesus Christ?  It's a revealed faith, period.  If there is one thing we don't get to have our opinion of, in or out of season, is what Jesus Christ taught.

Call me a heretic, but I don't think so.  I don't think that the Catholic Church IS Jesus Christ.  I recognize and accept that one of many analogies applied to the church is the analogy of the mystical body of Christ.

But the Catholic church as Jesus Christ?  No.  That's far from correct.  It's a form of ecclesiolatry that confuses Jesus, the originating impulse from whose proclamation of the imminent reign of God the church flows, with the church itself.  The church, which is a human institution (albeit one with a divine origin) that has grown up over the course of time, changed and adapted to various historical conditions, and can change and adapt again in response to historical shifts.  

An adaptable, historically conditioned human institution that must adapt in response to historical shifts if it has any hope of keeping the message it exists to serve and proclaim alive in the world.

Jesus never even spoke of the church.  He proclaimed the reign of God.  Scripture scholars are in well-nigh universal agreement that the rare gospel passages in which the word ekklesia is put into the mouth of Jesus are post-paschal retrojections, an attempt of the early church to make clear the connection between the institution that grew up in response to Jesus's proclamation of the reign of God (and in response to the paschal mystery), and who Jesus was and what he preached and enacted.

There's a growing tendency of Catholics of a conservative stripe to divinize the institutional church and everything about it, including its bishops and every word that drops out of the mouths of the bishops (or of popes).  This is an aberrant, unhealthy, theologically ill-informed tendency that's approaching heresy.

It takes high ecclesiology to absurdly high limits that have nothing to do with the real church and the real world in which the church lives, moves, and has its being.  Here at Bilgrimage, a reader calling himself Malleus Mures (Hammer Walls, though the Latin is grammatically askew) responded to something I wrote recently with the quip,

. . . [T]he Church of the Zeitgeist can not possibly be the Church of Christ, and if Christ has a Church then the Bishops can not possibly be just a bunch of men.

And I replied,

I'd have thought that identifying the church of Christ with a bunch of men--including bishops--might be called idolatry. And I believe that the scriptures staunchly condemn idolatry, don't they? 

And I stand by what I wrote.  Finn, Cordileone et al. as Jesus Christ? 

Please.  Even a first-grade catechism student used to know better than that.  And anyone with eyes in her head and a well-functioning conscience can easily see the difference.

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