Pope Questions

pope clipartI’ve decided to run a little series of posts called ‘Pope Questions.’  These are responses to questions that people invariably ask me in conversations about my work. Some of them are meant to clarify issues about who exactly Leo is, others are more specific to my own feelings concerning popes. The answers I’ll give here will not be the ones I gave in the moment — or, if basically the same, not verbatim.

Expect to see the following questions answered:

  • Is Leo one of the bad popes?
  • Why study Leo the Great?
  • What makes Leo Great?
  • What other popes are ‘the Great’?
  • Are all popes saints?
  • Who is the first pope?
  • It must be difficult for you to study a pope since you are a Protestant.
  • Who is your favourite pope?
  • What do you think of the current pope?
  • Is the Vatican hiding something in the Archive? What would happen if they made it all public?
  • Is that [Gregory the Great] the Gregory who went to war against Hungary?

Feel free to ask your own questions, of course!

I will not answer whether Leo was a Medici pope — I assume that person misheard the century ‘fifth’ as ‘fifteenth’. Or had Medicis on the brain. Or both. Nor will I answer if the Fall of the Roman Empire was near in time to the Reformation; I fear that person had little knowledge of European history.

Also, expect Montly Popes as of March, but not Weekly Saints. Too hard to keep up the saints.

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Modern Roman Catholic churches: A superficial reason to stay Protestant?

Yesterday after work at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (Site Richelieu) I wandered through St-Germain l’Auxerrois. This is a church dedicated to St Germanus of Auxerre (readers of Jack Whyte will know the character), a Gallic bishop of the fifth century (yay fifth century!). The church of St-Germain l’Auxerrois is a fantastic piece of Gothic architecture, with one of only two Flamboyant Gothic porches in Paris (the other is that of La Sainte Chappelle whose interior is Radiant Gothic; this is a fifteenth-century style of Gothic arthictecture) — this is also the style of the Tour St-Jacques at Châtelet in Paris. The outside of St-Germain is clearly Flamboyant Gothic:

To compare, here is Tour St-Jacques:

So that should set the scene well enough.

The interior of St-Germain l’Auxerrois is not all Flamboyant Gothic. I only took a brief look, but there is some woodwork that is clearly Renaissance, and the nave looks to be an early stage of the Gothic era. Several pillars also look Renaissance, and there are portions rumoured to be Romanesque. Like all good Gothic churches, it has a rose window:

What the traditional architecture of St-Germain shows is the ability of these different styles of classical church architecture to join together and form a united whole. None of it feels awkward. None of it feels out of place. It all works, whether one type of Gothic or another, whether Romanesque or Renaissance.

This is the sort of beauty and grandeur that would have attracted me to the Roman Catholic Church a century ago.

Today, alas, visiting St-Germain l’Auxerrois makes me repeat this quote from a wee piece of mine entitled ‘The Allure of Eastern Orthodoxy‘:

If Jesus handed on his teachings to His Apostles, and these traditions were handed on down the ages, they would help provide the key to proper interpretation of the Bible.  And this is what you have in the Eastern Orthodox tradition.

In the West, we used to have it with Rome and the Anglicans, but both of these institutions have reck lessly dived into the world of modernity as modernity flounders and sinks.

Today, where the transepts cross the nave, to align with Vatican II requirements, a Holy Table has been placed in the church besides the High Altar in the chancel. This sort of disruption of ecclesiastical architecture is frustrating, but I could maybe live with it. However, they have not chosen to produce something beautiful infused with the history and tradition and weight of the glory of God and his Saints and his Church on the new post-V2 furniture.

I didn’t have my camera with me yesterday, so I can’t show you the hideousness. But it does not match. It is beaten metal of silvern colour with what looks like an eye wrought in it from golden colour. A square table. An awkward lectern. This is what the Roman Catholic faithful approach every Sunday morning to take in their mouths the Most Sacred Body and Blood of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ?

At first glimpse, this is a superficial reason to stay Protestant, isn’t it? I mean, what about my other areas of disagreement — ‘St’ Joan of Arc, church governance, transubstantiation, justification, Marian dogmas, the cultus of the saints, and so forth? Church architecture and furniture? Really? Has the Scholiast really wandered that far down the traditionalist position?

To me, this new furniture that is jarring and matches NOTHING within sight is symptomatic. The Church of Rome has been trying to reform herself for centuries. What ‘reform’ itself is has changed over time, of course, and meant something different to eighth-century St Boniface (saint of the week here) as to thirteenth-century St Francis (saint of the week here) as to sixteenth-century Luther and Erasmus as to the men of Vatican II in the 1960s.

I believe in some of her 1960s reforms. But the liturgical repositioning and cutting down has allowed a swathe of hideous modern art to flood the churches of Europe in a way that does not integrate with the artistic integrity of their setting. Furthermore, these hideous monstrosities (visible amongst Anglican churches as well) fail to communicate the beauty, truth, and power of the Triune God in any meaningful way. All they can capture of our God is that he is enigmatic …

… in an age when ‘enigmatic’ is about as far as most people are willing to concede to defining the divine, shouldn’t we go a bit farther?

Gothic architecture makes my heart sing. I am too inadequate an art lover/critic to explain what La Sainte Chappelle does to me. But it is powerful and profound. And it was meant to do this to me. As I have discussed, Gothic architecture is meant to bring physical light to us as a manifestation of the uncreated light of the Trinity as well as to draw our eyes ever upwards in a search for the invisible God, symbolically in the ‘heavens’. Modern church architecture, whether a barren Megachurch(TM) auditorium or frankly monstrous Roman Catholic post-V2 furnishings does not, cannot, do this to me.

Where is the glory of God for a lost generation? Where is the splendour of the resplendant Son of God for my thirsty soul?

Finally, what St-Germain l’Auxerrois says to me is: We used to know who we were and Whom we worshipped. But now we are chasing culture along with the Protestants and have forgotten.

Catacombs and Controversy

Orans or ‘Pray-er’ in the Catacombs

I’m not an art historian, as this post that still leaves me dissatisfied will show. But I do like art and architecture and sometimes even have coherent thoughts about them. This coherence is typified in my posts about Gothic art and architecture here and here. Part of what makes Gothic architecture easier to write about is the fact that it comes with a guidebook, almost. When Abbot Suger redesigned St. Denis, he wrote all about it.

This clarity is not the case for much early Christian art.

And today, I had to lead a tutorial seminar on the Catacombs of Rome, which lack much clarity and coherence because they were first excavated during the Reformation and were thus marshalled for the ‘Counter-‘ or ‘Catholic’ Reformation as Anti-Protestant/Iconoclast propaganda. Today, the Vatican still controls access to these subterranean lands full of wonderful images, thus making it harder to re-evaluate them based upon new techniques and better knowledge of the early history and art of Christianity from other sources (such as Dura Europos).

The propaganda value of the Catacombs comes from attempts to proclaim all of the art Christian and all of it pre-Constantinian. This often comes coupled with the belief that the Christians lived and hid in the Catacombs during times of persecution. The idea is that if you can prove a major role for bishops and the Bishop of Rome before Constantine, as well as the centrality of martyr (ie. saints’) cults in Ante-Nicene Christianity, as well as the prominence of Christian figural art including images of Christ before Nicaea, you can prove to Iconoclast Protestants who want to separate from Rome and abolish the cult of the saints that they are treading a fine line with overturning early stages of the very tradition that gave us the Scriptures.

However, I do not believe that you need to espouse this 16th-century propaganda to be Roman Catholic — not that I’m a Roman Catholic. The newer interpretations of the Catacombs are that they are subterranean necropoleis like those of other Mediterranean cities and that they housed the corpses Christians, Jews, and pagans. This view explains why there are so many pagan motifs in the art down there (you’d think it would be welcome to the Roman authorities).

Catacomb Banquet

Although such a view leads to re-dating some art as well as proclaiming other art pagan, the art that seems to date from the mid-third century still has many of the major Catacomb motifs — banquet scenes, Bible stories, Christ the Good Shepherd on the ceiling, fish, chi-rhos, and the like. Thus, arguments for Ante-Nicene figural images can still stand against Iconoclastic opponents.

Of course, when the material is re-dates, there is some trouble with the fact that none of the crosses or crucifixions pre-dates the fifth century. But this merely makes the Catacombs like every other place with Christian art. Christians were very slow to go about publically painting and carving crosses. My hunch is that in a culture where people are actually crucified, it’s still too raw; Christians have to spend enough time working through the shame as it is, as evidenced in Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho.

I think the lack of crosses also points to the purpose of the art. While it’s likely that some Christian martyrs were buried there, no evidence exists for regular Church services down there, apart (one imagines) from martyrs’ festivals. The Bible stories tend to be images of people being saved, not of Christ’s salvific act. They are reminders of the hope all Christians hold.

Good Shepherd, ceiling of cubiculum in Catacomb of Priscilla

Another idea countered by younger scholars is that every banquet scene in the Catacombs is Eucharist. Since some of them are pagan, this need not be so. They could be images of the heavenly banquet; they could be images of the banquets Romans (Christians included) held at the tombs of loved ones on the anniversary of their death; they could be images the Christian love-feast. Who knows?

Alas, however, these views are hard to find, as an art historian/archaeologist friend was explaining today over coffee. Since access to these sites is so closely controlled, and the official line so loudly proclaimed, it is hard to find a book that will break the silence and tell the truth in all its messiness and with all its uncertainties.

But I like the image of the Catacombs as common cemeteries where Christians told their stories in frescoes, even if they are not always the stories we expect. It adds another angle to the evidence provided by the also scant but much more numerous documentary evidence that I usually deal with.

G. K. Chesterton and the Modern Protestant

NAMESAKE

Mary of Holyrood may smile indeed,
Knowing what grim historic shade it shocks
To see wit, laughter and the Popish creed,
Cluster and sparkle in the name of Knox.

G. K. Chesterton

That little poem by a large man, c. 1932, is part of the wider bewilderment with which Chesterton beheld the modern(ist?) Protestant, something he brings out fully in his book The Thing: Why I Am Catholic (my favourite quotations here).

In The Thing, Chesterton is not impressed by the Protestants he sees around him, for they seem unable to properly define a Protestant, for one thing. For another, the virtues they find in the writings of famous Protestants such as Milton and Bunyan are not things that are peculiarly Protestant. Rather, they are things that he sees as being peculiarly Catholic.

I would argue with dear Mr. Chesterton, however, that these things are not simply Catholic but more properly catholic. That is to say, the things that modern Protestants love about Milton and Bunyan, Shakespeare and Donne, may not be peculiarly Protestant things, but they are not Catholic in the sense of Roman/Romish/Papist/what-have-you, but catholic in the sense of universal — they are part of the common store of all Christians everywhere at all times, be they Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant.

Nevertheless, GKC has a point here. Chesterton is right in berating modern Protestants for not really liking the things that, historically, define them as Protestants. In the forefront of his mind seems to have been a dislike of some form of Calvinistic Predestination, which is a bit amusing, given that Predestination itself is as much part of the Catholic theology as Protestant, both groups being inescapably Augustinian despite their best efforts in recent times.

There is something troubling about a group that dislikes the things that define it and loves only those things that it has common with everyone else. Why, exactly, should one be part of said group? Why be a Protestant if the only things you like about Protestantism are things Protestants hold in common with Roman Catholicism? Why be a Christian if the only things you like about Christianity are things Christians hold in common with all religions?

While I do not argue we must all adhere strictly to the confessional documents of the 16th and 17th centuries, I do think we should take them into account, we should figure out if these adjectives of old — Protestant, Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, Reformed, Orthodox — actually refer to our particular set of beliefs or if we are merely followers of the heresy of Scholiastism (insert your own name before the -ism).

St. Francis and Why You Like Him

Re-post from elsewhere in 2008.

St. Francis of Assisi by Count Berthold von Imhoff

Despite real, living human beings like one old woman in Chasing Francis who declared in horror, “Isn’t Francis of Assisi a Roman Catholic Saint?” many people love St. Francis, Christian and otherwise. Among the Christians, friends of Francis are found across denominational and theological boundaries, with “Low” and “High” Anglicans loving him, “liberals” and “conservatives” being inspired by him, “evangelicals” and “progressives” chasing him.

So let’s get Francis to cut through all the barriers and labels and help us see what a real Christian looks like!

Ecologists love St. Frank because he was green. He preached to animals and rejoiced in creation, seeing it as a vehicle for the beauty and glory of the Creator. If he were to see what we do to the planet today, he would be shocked and appalled. He would call out for us to stop, to take a look at Sister Earth and her moaning, to see that the majestic trees are our fellow creatures, made by the same loving God! Yes, the earth is ours to till, to use, but not to abuse or destroy! We must be stewards of creation, not overlords.

Evangelistic evangelicals love Francis because he was a gospel preacher before he was a creation-lover. He and his friars would preach to poor that they had to repent, that the Kingdom of Heaven was nigh. They cared about and for the poor spiritually in a time when many reserved the gospel of salvation for the rich and noble. They preached a gospel of the extravagant love of God in an age of hellfire, brimstone, Crusades, and indulgences. St. Frank believed that everyone had a chance of heaven, and he wanted them to have that chance. He loved Jesus and he wanted everyone else to see why Jesus was worth loving.

Social activists love St. Frank because he bathed the lesions of lepers. Once, when the brothers gave him a cloak because it was a cold evening, he gave it to the first freezing beggar that he saw, then proceeded to thank the beggar for giving him this opportunity for generosity. The message of repentance the little brothers brought to the rich and powerful was that of mammon, of money and its grip on life. Sometimes they didn’t use words, and this was effective enough for many rich young men to sell all they had, give to the poor, and go join the little brothers. At other times, if the brothers were at prayer and a rich man rode by in his carriage, one would stand and preach about the evils and money and the deception on wealth while the others continued at prayer.

Mystics love St. Francis of Assisi because he was one. He would spend days in prayer — spontaneously. Once he was walking with some of the brothers and became overcome by an urge to pray. A friend had a place nearby, so they went there, and St. Francis spent the next three days in prayer. Another time, when he and St. Claire were deep in conversation for hours and their spirits were caught up in the heavenlies, the locals ran to the building because it looked like it was aflame. But when they went in, they saw that the light was produced by a gathering of the saints with Francis and Claire. St. Francis had visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary as well as the stigmata. The event that started his ministry was a vision of Christ.

Why do you like St. Francis of Assisi?

Return to the Sources (Ressourcement)

In the 1920’s, there was a papal call to ‘return to the sources’ which produced a number of Catholic theologians who worked on the ancient and mediaeval theologians, seeking to bring their wisdom to today and seeking to make their words available today, both through scholar editions such as Sources Chrétiennes and translations such as Sources Chrétiennes. This movement was and is the Ressourcement, and produced major works such as Henri de Lubac’s Exégèse Mediévale.

In the English-speaking world, today’s Christian who is seeking to discover the Fathers has many thanks to render unto the Catholics and their publishing houses.

Paulist Press – Ancient Christian Writers and The Classics of Western Spirituality

Paulist Press, the publishing house of the Missionary Society of Saint Paul the Apostle, has produced two great series of English translations and editions, the Ancient Christian Writers and The Classics of Western Spirituality. The former is a series of highly scholarly translations of a vast range of ancient Greek and Latin Christian texts. A full list is available here.

The Classics of Western Spirituality is broader than Ancient Christian Writers, covering mediaeval and modern texts as well, including Protestants such as John & Charles Wesley alongside the Catholic mainstays such as Sts. Francis & Clare of Assisi. This series comes with very competent introductions, but at times the selections have been edited, as with John Cassian’s Conferences which are incomplete (however, the ACW translation is complete). The Patristic resources in this series are:

Augustine of Hippo: Selected Writings, The of Antony and the Letter to Marcellinus by Athanasius, Apocalyptic Spirituality includes selections from Lactantius but is mostly mediaeval, The Life of Moses by Gregory of Nyssa, The Conferences by John Cassian, The Ladder of Divine Ascent by John Climacus, Maximus the Confessor: Selected Writings, Origen: Selected Writings, Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works, The Fifty Spiritual Homilies and the Great Letter by Pseudo-Macarius, Hymns by Ephrem the Syrian, and On the Song of Songs and Selected Writings by the Venerable Bede.

While this series covers the Western Church very well for the Middle Ages, it is too bad they are missing much of Western Patristic spirituality.

Catholic University of America – The Fathers of the Church and The Library of Early Christianity

The Fathers of the Church is a long-running, high-quality series of English translations of the Fathers. A list of works translated is available here. This series is very large.

The Library of Early Christianity is a new venture started by CUA, and I’m excited about it. It seeks to present Loeb-style editions of early Christian texts in Latin, Greek, and Syriac (I’m not sure if other languages such as Coptic will be included) with facing-page English translations. This series will be a blessing to many as it gets up and running, I am sure!

Apart from these series of translations, Catholic scholars have been involved in translation projects with Routledge’s Early Church Father’s series, SVS Press’s Popular Patristics Series, Penguin Classics, Oxford World’s Classics, and so forth.

To go into the Ressourcement work beyond translation would be too much for now, but Eerdmans’ Ressourcement: Retrieval and Renewal in Catholic Thought series is worth looking into here. The series includes the English translation of Lubac’s Medieval Exegesis.

For later: The Evangelical Ressourcement?

What makes a Protestant?

One evening, as a friend and I walked to Vespers at the local Orthodox Church, he remarked that he had invited some of our other friends who had responded by looking at him as though he had three heads. Another time, these same friends had chuckled in a, “Yeah, right,” sort of way when he said that he was as much a Protestant as they were.

The question has been raised here as to why I am not Eastern Orthodox, given that I seem to embrace so many Eastern Orthodox beliefs. The question is related to the response of more evangelical, Reformed Protestants who don’t see my Methodist/Episcopalian friend who appreciates Aquinas, incense, and Kallistos Ware as being “as Protestant” as they are.

What makes a Protestant?

GK Chesterton, in The Thing: Why I Am Catholic, takes issue with some of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century responses to this question, when people such as Dean Inge argued that basically being a Protestant was rising in protest whenever things were going wrong. He also has trouble with the fact that those things that make a Milton or a Bunyan delightful to the modern Protestant are things that Milton and Bunyan share with Catholics — not things that make them Protestant.

This question has needed answering for a good while, then.

According to Bruce McCormack at the University of Edinburgh’s Croall Lectures for this year, Protestants — the theologians, at least — should be working from within the framework of their confessional statements to produce a comprehensive worldview. He was not fond of those Protestants who produce either Catholicism light or a Patristic synthesis to theological issues. We should be identifiable through our adherence to the confessional statements of our tradition, according to McCormack. At least, that’s what I think he was saying.

For many contemporary Protestants, this is probably a bit of a problem, especially if we consider the very large number of Anglicans who are Arminians and thus cannot throw themselves wholeheartedly into Article of Religion 17, “On Predestination.” For me, saying that I must pledge my allegiance to a particular confession and produce theological thinking in accord with it is a definite problem, if we recall this post.

Nonetheless, I would still like to say that I am a Protestant. And being Protestant requires more than a rejection of papal claims. There are, I believe, certain doctrinal positions Protestants emphasise as well as certain approaches to doctrine and worship.

First of all, justification by faith. As a Protestant, I believe that nothing we do can make us justified before God. No amount of condign merit will justify me. It is the faith within the heart and life of the believer that justifies. God will justify those who have chosen to follow Him and put their trust in Him. From true faith will flow a life of good works, yes; but the good works are not what justify us but the fruit of the justified.

Second, the primacy (supremacy?) of Scripture for faith, life, and doctrine. A lot of Anglicans like pointing to Hooker’s three-legged stool of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, from which the removal of a single leg means utter disaster, saying that people like Mark Driscoll are troubling because of how much they overemphasise Scripture.

Well, the fact of the matter is, Scripture contains everything necessary for salvation. Other things might be okay, but they aren’t necessary. If it’s not in Scripture, it is not binding. Now, tradition and reason are important for the interpretation of Scripture. We can never escape them. That is the point of this whole website. But Scripture still stands supreme. If tradition, through the years, has come up with something counter to Scripture, the Church — the same Church who handed down the tradition — can jettison it after a long, painful process of prayer and searching the Scriptures together.

Third, I do not believe that a true Protestant will have a Roman understanding of the sacrifice of the Mass. That is to say, the idea that Christ himself is offered upon the altar as an immolation for our sins by the Priest who stands in Christ’s stead each Sunday. Now, the idea that there is a twofold sacrifice of ourselves, our souls and bodies, along with the gifts of bread and wine at the Holy Table — this is acceptable. It is also acceptable to say that the Eucharist recapitulates Christ’s atoning work and brings its benefits to the assembled Body through the Sacramental act (see Robert E. Webber, Worship Old and New).

As regards other aspects of the Sacrament, Protestants are divided. I, myself, follow Luther in The Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, as explained here. I affirm with my Anglican heritage that the Holy Eucharist and Holy Baptism are outward, visible signs of an inward, invisible grace.

If to be Protestant one must sign on to a confessional statement, most Protestants would have to believe in penal substitutionary atonement. And most of us do. And some of us believe in Christus Victor. Some of us, rascals that we are, believe in both. But this issue is more of an East vs. West question than a Protestants vs. the World question.

In fact, most of the major questions of Christology and Triadology (the study of the All-holy Trinity) do not have a particular spin from the Protestants, outside of heretics like Oneness Pentecostals. We tend to follow St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas on these issues. Some, like Reformed theologian T.F. Torrance, turn to Sts. Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria for their Christology. I, myself, follow a sort of Neo-Chalcedonian, Conciliar Christology with something of an Augustinian-Thomist Triadology for good measure. There’s nothing un-Protestant about that!

I’m getting tired. But I think that the issue of justification, the place of the Bible in the Christian life, and the question of the sacrifice of the Mass (tied into how you answer the first two) are among three of the defining points of Protestants.

I am a Protestant, and maybe even an Anglican.