Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Church of the Plantagenets

CrimsonCatholic said...

What I would find far more troubling, were I a Protestant, is the new *patristics* scholarship of the last 40 years, which convincingly demonstrates that, while giving nominal adherence to the ecumencial creeds, Protestants have done so according to the same defective interpretation as the heretics. The modest claims of papal authority, which in any case are not refuted by what you cited (and I've read them), are trivial compared to the fact that the Protestant account of salvation and grace is fundamentally opposed to the Christian account of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. The physical presence (i.e., real presence according to nature) of God in the Church and its necessity for salvation is unanimously agreed by all Catholic and Orthodox Christians, echoing St. Cyril of Alexandria, the great "Seal of the Fathers." Yet Protestants deny it, making the spiritual resemblance to God merely moral (hence, imputed justification) and not physical.

That's a Nestorian account of salvation, plain and simple. And the historical evidence about the heterodoxy of Nestorianism has been piling up over the last couple of decades (see, e.g., J.A. McGuckin, Paul Clayton) after some scholarship suggesting that Nestorius might have been orthodox (mostly based on Nestorius's own erroneous claims; see, e.g., F. Loofs), and therefore, that Calvin's identical beliefs might have been as well. But that has been crushed even more convincingly than the admittedly excessive claims of some Catholics about papal infallibility, and it is a much more serious error in any case. This is why I stopped even bothering with these debates, at least until I saw David wavering, because Newman's prophetic words about being "deep in history" were absolutely vindicated by the neo-patristic scholarship. Protestants today have no hope of being orthodox in the historical sense; they have to redefine orthodoxy to be broad enough to include what they believe (see, e.g., D.H. Williams).

Case in point. Rightly interpreted, Trent says that we possess God's own righteousness, but that we are not made righteous by His possession of it, but our own. In other words, Trent means exactly by "created grace" what Eastern Orthodoxy means by "uncreated energies." In any case, both sides insist on a metaphysically real, physical union with the divine nature, and that is denied by Protestantism in the sense I gave above.

1. So Prejean’s definition of orthodoxy is hostage to the shifting sands of “neo-patristic scholarship. That’s a rather odd objection coming from a Catholic epologist. Don’t Catholics apologists typically object to the Protestant faith on the grounds that we alleged substitute a priesthood of scholars for a priesthood of bishops? That we poor Protestants are at the mercy of the commentators?

Wasn’t Rome supposed to offer something more stable and univocal?

2. It’s quite true that I, for one, deny “physical justification.” In what sense is justification “physical”? Does it have a particular height, weight, and color? Does it have a sweet fragrance? Or the texture of soft Corinthian leather?

Yes, I deny that God is “physically present” in the church. I also deny our “physical union” with God.

Is Prejean a worshipper of Zeus? Does he think God is a physical being? Like Laurence Olivier in Clash of the Titans?

Admittedly, that conception of the divine nature pays certain dividends where Aphrodite is concerned, but it’s not my idea of sound theology–whatever its ancillary charms.

3. Whether one’s account of salvation and grace is fundamentally opposed to the account of the Seven Ecumenical Councils is less troublesome than whether it’s fundamentally opposed to the account of God’s word.

By the same token, I’m less anxious about orthodoxy in the “historical” sense than conformity to revealed truth.

4. The tragedy of Jonathan Prejean’s existence is that he was born a few centuries too late. He’s a frustrated courtier at heart. Prejean inhabits the bygone world of hereditary honors and titles. Of Grand Dukes and Archdukes. Counts and Viscounts. The Archduke this and the Archduchess that. The Marquess this and the Marchioness that.

A lost world where, if your surname is Plantagenet, we should curtsy in your presence and address you as Milady, but if your surname is Smith, you go to the end of the line.

He missed his calling in life–to be a Lord of the Bedchamber.

For Prejean, the church of Rome is the next best thing to the House of Plantagenet.

Papal Chamberlains of the Cape. Knights of the Golden Spur. Prelati di fiocchetto (so called because they have the right to ornament the harness of their horses with violet and peacock-coloured feathers).

For Prejean, impertinence is the cardinal sin. He treats church fathers and ecumenical councils like the divine right of kings. Theology becomes an exacting science in court etiquette.

What worse effrontery could there be than to slight St. Cyril of Alexandria, “Seal of the Fathers”?

It’s like something out of a Disney film where the dashing young prince falls madly in love with a ravishing scullery maid, and they live happily ever after in a pink castle on the hill.


  1. I find it amazing that someone can use a phrase like "modest claims of papal authority" with a straight face.

  2. "....What I would find far more troubling, were I a Protestant, is the new *patristics* scholarship of the last 40 years,....".

    What I would like to know is just how old this guy is?

    Is he 50 or 60 or 70 years old?

    If so, what basis does he rely upon to make that judgment of new patristics scholarship of the last 40 years?

    Isn't what he is writing relatively new if he were 50, 60, 70 plus years old?