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Friday, February 09, 2024


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Hi Bill,

If the God-Man established a church, what more could you want by way of ecclesiological validation?

But which church did he establish? The RCC?

So many institutions fail, by a kind of natural regression to the all-too-human, to carry forward the genuine spark of inspiration present at their founding. If I have this correctly, the safeguard against this for the Catholic Church is understood to be the ongoing guidance of the Holy Spirit, which is the basis for the infallibility of the Church on matters of doctrine. (Deviance from established doctrine, which is on this basis considered impossible, is the basis for sedevacantist claims in the wake of Vatican II.)

It seems to me (and please forgive me if my understanding is too simplistic here!) that the question, then, is (at minimum) twofold:

1) Is the Catholic Church in fact guided always to truth by the infallible Holy Ghost?
2) Have those in charge of the Church actually obeyed this guidance?

If the answer to either 1) or 2) is no, then the claim of Protestant denominations becomes more plausible.

This is a complex question, the answer which requires an erudite knowledge of biblical exegesis, the dogmatic and doctrinal beliefs of the early Church, its ecclesial organization and apostolic lines of authority, including the relations of the various major patriarchies, and so on.

But here, consider just one issue, that of the understanding of the Eucharist of the great Church Fathers, East and West, from the second to the fifth centuries A.D, for in doing so, one finds that all believed in the Real Presence of Christ, Body and Blood, in the Eucharist. Thus, the ancient RCC’s dogmatic position (and the Orthodox Church after the schism of 1054) on Christ’s words at the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper IS THAT OF THE POST APOSOLIC CHURCH. The innovations from the 16th century onward, introduced by various Protestant sects (consubstantiation, “spiritual eating,” memorial feast, etc.) break to one degree or another with this ancient dogma that goes back to Apostolic times; they are heretical innovations without an ancient historical foundation. So, restricting the discussion to just this issue, we are left with only two options: the RCC or the OC, and for other powerful reasons, not discussed here, I believe that the former is the only rational choice, although both churches have a validly ordained clergy and hence valid sacraments. Some quotations from the earliest Fathers demonstrates this fact.

1. St. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 110 A.D.)
I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the Bread of God, WHICH IS THE FLESH OF JESUS CHRIST, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I DESIRE HIS BLOOD, which is love incorruptible. (Letter to the Romans 7:3)

2. St. Justin Martyr (c. 100-165 A.D.)
For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by Him, AND BY THE CHANGE OF WHICH our blood and flesh is nourished, IS BOTH THE FLESH AND THE BLOOD OF THAT INCARNATED JESUS. (First Apology, 66)

3. St. Irenaeus of Lyon (140-202 A.D.)
When, therefore, the mixed cup and the baked bread receives the Word of God and BECOMES THE EUCHARIST, THE BODY OF CHRIST, and from these the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they say that the flesh is not capable of receiving the gift of God, WHICH IS ETERNAL LIFE -- flesh which is nourished BY THE BODY AND BLOOD OF THE LORD…receiving the Word of God, BECOMES THE EUCHARIST, WHICH IS THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST… (Against Heresies 5:2:2-3)

4. Tertullian (c. 155—250 A. D.)
The flesh feeds on THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST, so that the SOUL TOO may fatten on God. (Resurrection of the Dead 8:3)

5. Origen (c. 185-254 (A.D.)
You are accustomed to take part in the divine mysteries, so you know how, when you have received THE BODY OF THE LORD, you reverently exercise every care lest a particle of it fall, and lest anything of the consecrated gift perish…. how is it that you think neglecting the word of God a lesser crime than neglecting HIS BODY? (Homilies on Exodus 13:3)

6. St. Cyprian of Carthage (200-258 A.D.)
He Himself warns us, saying, "UNLESS YOU EAT THE FLESH OF THE SON OF MAN AND DRINK HIS BLOOD, YOU SHALL NOT HAVE LIFE IN YOU." Therefore, do we ask that our Bread, WHICH IS CHRIST, be given to us daily, so that we who abide and live in Christ may not withdraw from His sanctification and from His Body. (The Lord's Prayer 18)

7. St. Athanasius (c. 295-273 A.D.)
…so long as the prayers of supplication and entreaties have not been made, there is only bread and wine. BUT AFTER THE GREAT AND WONDERFUL HAVE BEEN COMPLETED, THEN THE BREAD HAS BECOME THE AND THE WINE THE BLOOD, OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST. (Sermon to the Newly Baptized, from Eutyches)

To this list, we can add the Fathers of the 4th and 5th century who also affirm the Real Presence: St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 350 A.D.), St. Hilary of Poitiers (c. 315 - 368 A.D.), St. Basil the Great (c. 330 - 379 A.D.), St. Gregory of Nazianz (c. 330 - 389 A.D.), St. Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335 - 394 A.D.), St. Epiphanius of Salamis (c. 315 - 403 A.D.), Theodore of Mopsuestia (c. 428 A.D.), St. John Chrysostom (c. 344 - 407 A.D.), St. Ambrose of Milan (c. 333 - 397 A.D.), St. Jerome (c. 347 - 420 A.D.), and St. Augustine (c. 354 - 430 A.D.).

Moreover, the language of all the 4-5th century Fathers, as the Fathers 2, 3, 5, 7 of the earlier group, insist that what was bread has become Body and what was wine has become Blood, i.e. the original substances are there only by appearance. Thus, while not employing the Aristotelian language of the Scholastics, they hold, in essence, the Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation (rather than Luther's notion of consubstantiation).

Brother Bill, let's go down the list:

"One." Not since 1054.

"True." ... If it checks the other boxes! but there is no check up above for "one."

"Holy." Not if the bishops shunt pedophile priests around from parish to parish.

"Catholic." Means "everywhere." If "One" is out, this is out also.

"Apostolic." A few might have that; and I will grant them an OK if they claim it, because 2,000 years is a long time of which to keep track.

Conclusion: there is no institutional church that qualifies anymore. We have a mystical body, but it is currently well hidden.

All the best;
– Catacomb Joe

Malcolm writes:
1) Is the Catholic Church in fact guided always to truth by the infallible Holy Ghost?
2) Have those in charge of the Church actually obeyed this guidance?
If the answer to either 1) or 2) is no, then the claim of Protestant denominations becomes more plausible.

In question 1, the phrase “in fact guided ALWAYS to truth by the infallible Holy Ghost” requires some clarification. If by this Malcolm means that the actions and words of those leading the Church at particular times and places have at all times been the result of an intervention of the Third Person of the Trinity, the answer would, obviously, be “no.” But the RCC has never held that its claim to be infallible is to be understood in this way, which would make a mockery of human freedom, including the freedom to sin and fall into error, and thus the results of the Fall of Man. Instead, the Church makes this claim with regard to her doctrine and sanctity, as Edward Feser explains:

"the character of the Church. . . is to be found in the formal teaching of the Magisterium over time, both extraordinary (official definitive decrees of councils, popes, and the like) and ordinary (the consistent and constantly reiterated teaching of centuries which, simply by virtue of this consistency and reiteration, is authoritative even when not conveyed in conciliar decrees, ex cathedra statements, and the like). Similarly, the holiness of the Church’s character is not necessarily to be found in the moral attributes that prevail among the membership or clergy of a particular generation. Rather, it is to be found in her consistent tendency for two millennia to produce saints" (https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2021/05/do-not-abandon-your-mother.html).

Now, to dispute the first claim of the above, one would have to show that the content of this Magisterium, taken as a whole or in part, is not derived, through sustained reflection, both theological and philosophical, from the revealed truths of the scripture (dogma), and although impressive arguments have been raised in this regard by Protestants and others, none have proved decisive; thus, one can reasonably support the “infallible” claim of the RCC.

With regard Feser's second point, it is too often too quickly passed over or ignored, for in arguing for the special religious status of the RCC, one must give never forget, even among the scandals of the present time, the extraordinary number of saintly persons that have marked her life and thought over more than twenty centuries.

To broaden this point, one must ask what would the quality of general culture in the West—philosophy, literature, science, art, architecture have been without the Church? An honest answer, which acknowledges her unparalleled influence in producing what is true, good, and beautiful, leads one to at least consider (rationally hold) that this is a sign of an exalted place here on earth.

Finally, where I differ with Feser is on the state of the Church at the present time, as I have made clear in several comments on this blog. I can’t argue my disagreement here, other than to say that the infiltration of the Church by unorthodox, heretical, and apostate forces has been taking place since the late 18th and especially in the last century and that these forces have now gained ascendency, going so far as to begin to undermine openly parts of the Magisterium. This fact, however, does not mean that the True Church, i.e., that part of the faithful, living and dead, who remain loyal to the Magisterium no longer exists. Rather, it is taking form as a remnant Church, militant and repressed from within and without. What this means for question 2, especially with regard to papal power, can’t be argued here.

Yesterday, Edward Feser tweeted something of value on this matter, drawing on the words of the late Benedict XVI:
“Too many have a simplistic understanding of the divine guidance claimed by the Church. As Benedict XVI (when still Cardinal Ratzinger) once said when asked whether the Holy Spirit plays a role in the election of popes: “I would not say so in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the Pope, because there are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit would obviously not have picked. I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined” (Quoted in John Allen, Conclave: The Politics, Personalities, and Process of the Next Papal Election)

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