Ontology and Sacraments

I’ve been continuing to ponder things sacramental, which is always likely to get me into trouble.  I realised recently that I have been teaching the Orthodox view of ordination all wrong, mixing it in with the Catholic view. In this discovery, I realised that opposition to the ordination of women has a different basis on either side of the Great Schism. From this I realised that there are significantly differing views on the ontology of (at least some of) the sacraments.

No doubt there will be theologians, professional and amateur, most of who would never bother to visit this blog, who would say (if they were to visit it), “Well, duh.” Those would of course be Valley Girl theologians, but there would be other theologians who would have a similar, if less blonde, response, incredulous that I have not already explored this in some depth and embarrassed for me that I even feel the need to write about it and demonstrate my ignorance.

I already knew that Orthodoxy did not subscribe to the Catholic idea of the indelible priestly character. However, I hadn’t thought about the implication of this being that in Orthodoxy a woman may not be a priest, whereas in Catholicism a woman cannot be a priest.

I suppose this is why the idea of deaconesses is considered seriously in some Orthodox circles. If it were demonstated (as some attempt to do) that deaconesses were the female equivalent of deacons at some time in the ancient past, then the precedent has been established in Holy Tradition that could eventually lead to such an equivalency being re-introduced. It seems to follow from this that the only thing preventing women priests in Orthodoxy is that it has never been done that way. Admittedly, this is a pretty high wall when it comes to Orthodoxy.  It does however, remove the ontological impossiblity. (While I have been writing and editing this, there has been a related discussion on Deacon Steve Hayes’ Khanya blog.)

One thing I don’t get is how the Catholic Church only sees three of the sacraments as unrepeatable, viz., Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders. I seems to me that Marriage should fit in this category as well. After all, Catholic theology does not recognise remarriage after divorce. Does this not make the sacrament of marriage unrepeatable? It also seems like there should be an indelible married character, that there is an ontological (as opposed to a merely economic) aspect to becoming one flesh.

I don’t know if Orthodoxy considered ordination, not being indelible, to be unrepeatable. Can a laicised Orthodox cleric be re-clericised? I’m sure there is a textbook answer to such a question.

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When is a Sacrament a Sacrament?

I was listening in on the conversation of a couple of Charismatic preachers a few weeks ago. There was some discussion about how certain ministers seem to be conduits of the power of God (they have “the anointing”, to use the common parlance) despite a significant lack of personal character.

Those with a sacramental theology will recognise this as similar to the view that the validity of the sacrament is not afffected by the holiness of the person administering it. The difference is that “the anointing” is a personal thing, bestowed upon an individual, whereas the sacraments are entrusted to the Church.

However, this did bring my thoughts to something that is no doubt considered a long-settled matter regarding the sacraments. What makes a valid or real sacrament? Or more particularly, what are the implications of partaking in sacraments that aren’t valid.

The Roman Church generally recognises the sacraments of the Orthodox Church as valid and grace-filled. Opinion in the Orthodox Church ranges from a similar view about Roman sacraments (as ennunciated by Archbishop Hilarion [Alfeev]) to a not surprisingly very uncharitable view.

For those who deny the grace of Roman mysteries, when did they lose their efficacy? Though 1054 is a symbolic date, as a practical matter there was a lot of concelebration and cross-pollination for centuries after, even as there was open rivalry before. It is easy to look with the eyes of the present, see a clear divide with battle lines drawn and trenches dug, and declare that we are the Orthodox Church and you’re not. We know where the grace is. It seems to me, if we start parsing out the history very carefully, it becomes very difficult to declare when the other side became the other side and lost their grace.

I also find it interesting that for both sides, all that matters is what is decided at the highest hierarchical level. The epiclesis of a pederastic priest is unconditionally granted because his hierarch is on the right side of the Great Schism. On the other hand, God ignores the holy priest (ordained with the same intent and using an equally valid rite) who may be rather oblivious to the decision of medieval synods and not realise that his fate was decided somewhere between 500 and 1000 year ago (given the murkiness of the historical situation), thus leaving him to spend a lifetime in fruitless faux-sacerdotal prayer.

But setting aside the debate regarding Roman sacraments, I have been mulling over the matter of Protestant sacraments as they relate to Orthodox theology. After all, neither Rome nor Orthodoxy recognise the validity of Protestant sacraments. And futhermore, many Protestants don’t even recognise the validity of any sacraments.

So the first question is: if Protestants do not have real sacraments, can they participate in their act of Communion without fear of bringing judgement upon themselves for partaking unworthily? Or rather, are their fears unfounded even though they take it in faith? In other words, do the warnings of St Paul in I Corinthians not apply, even if the person receiving thinks they do? Is it all much ado about nothing?

Following on from this, if someone in Communion within the Orthodox Church receives an invalid communion, have they received communion outside the Church at all? It would seem that the Orthodox would have to recognise Roman sacraments as sacraments at least to the point of saying that someone is no longer in communion with the Orthodox Church because they have communed with Rome. However, if it be no sacrament whatsoever, not even putatively in the case of some Protestants, how is it possible to consider it communion for the purpose of excommunication from the real sacrament?

Anyhow, these are just a few thoughts I’ve been mulling around in my head.

My Letter to Metropolitan Gerasimos

I will be posting this letter along with the letter to Rep. Dina Titus:

His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos
Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco
245 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

Your Eminence

As an American member of the Greek Orthodox Church currently living abroad, I was appalled when I learned that a member of your diocese serving in the United State House of Representatives, Dina Titus, publicly declares that she supports ethics of which Orthodox Christians would be proud and uses her position in Congress to look out for Orthodox issues.

Rep. Titus’ ethics are in direct contradiction to the teaching of the Orthodox Church. Rep. Titus openly supports the federally sponsored killing of the unborn. By her words and actions she is declaring that support for abortion is compatible with Orthodoxy.

Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America boldly declared in Washington, D.C. in January of this year, “…the unqualified opposition to abortion that is at the heart of the Orthodox Christian Tradition and is unarguably the teaching and the dogma of the Orthodox Church.” As Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh has said, “It is our obligation as Orthodox to speak up and not remain silent on this issue.”

Rep. Titus has voted in favour of using tax dollars to fund abortion, in House Roll Call No. 571 (the District of Columbia funding bill, H.R. 3170), in House Roll Call No. 643 (the Pence amendment to H.R. 3293), and in House Roll Call No. 884 (the Stupak-Pitts Amendment to H.R. 3962). Such votes unarguably stand in opposition to the ethics of the Orthodox Church. She is openly an accomplice to what the Orthodox Church clearly and unequivocally regards as murder.

As a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, I urge you to fulfil the obligation to speak up and not remain silent. I ask you to call upon Rep. Titus to repent of publicly rejecting the teaching and dogma of the Orthodox Church and Holy Tradition in the Congress of the United States. I call upon you to fulfil your duty to Christ and His Church to guard the holy, life-giving sacraments and demand that Rep. Titus refrain from receiving the Most Precious Body and Blood of our Lord so long as she spends the public purse to rip the bodies of the innocent unborn from their mothers and pours out their blood upon the altar of convenience.

In Christ,

Open Font, Open Heresy

I went to a baptism today. Actually it was a triple baptism.

Being an Anglican rite, certain things are optional. For example, none of the parents were Anglican. I know that at least some of the godparents were not Anglican either. (My best guess is that none of them are.) I know that the parents of two of the children are not married. (My best guess is that the others weren’t either.)

Now here is what I don’t get. Even in the wishy-washy (or rather, the wishier-washier) alternative to the Common Worship text, the parents have to turn to Christ, repent of their sin, and renounce evil. If they are living in fornication when they walk into the Church and when they walk out, with no intention of changing that arrangement, how is it that the church allows them to go through the motions?

The church cannot know the secrets of the heart, but they can easily know the openness of cohabitation. The C of E substitutes social occasions for sacraments. Having the baby “done” is an excuse to have a party. Actually when I saw the godfather of one of the children with a diamond ear stud and his shirt undone to show off his bling, I knew this was going to be what could only  be called an ex-chav-aganza.

Is it any surprise that if the sacrament of baptism has lost its sacredness, the rest soon follow? You end up with things like women pretending to be priests (or even bishops) or the proported marriage of a man and a man.

Indescriminate Baptism

I like Charlotte Church. I bear her no personal animosity in any way. I just thought I ought to say that before I continue.

Charlotte and her boyfriend Gavin Henson had their daughter Ruby baptised today. Their other child was present in utero. When I first saw the headline in the news, I assumed that the baptism was in a building belonging to the Church in Wales – the Welsh component of the Anglican Communion. After all, Anglicans take a wide range of views on the propriety of certain types of relationships. If they are willing to marry gay couples in London, it does not seems unreasonable to suppose they might baptise the child born out of wedlock to two people living very openly (as celebrities do) in fornication.

But no, it was a Roman Catholic church with, one must presume, a Roman Catholic priest, using, again one must presume, a Roman Catholic rite of baptism. In 1980, Pope John Paul II approved of the “Instruction on Infant Baptism” promulgated by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It specifically addresses the Dialogue Between Pastors and Families With Little Faith or Non-Christian Families:

In fact the Church can only accede to the desire of these parents if they give an assurance that, once the child is baptized, it will be given the benefit of the Christian upbringing required by the sacrament. The Church must have a well-founded hope that the Baptism will bear fruit.

How can the Church have assurance that the child will have a Christian upbringing when the parents have no regard for the sacrament of marriage? I have no problem with the baptism of children born out of wedlock, if their parents have subsequently gotten married. Otherwise, how can the parents acknowledge at the font their duty to raise the child to keep God’s commandments?

Charlotte wants to have six children by the time she is 32. She has not indicated when, along the way, she plans to enter into the sacrament of marriage. But like I said, my problem isn’t with Charlotte. She is living in perfect harmony with the spirit of the age and that is the life she has chosen.

My problem is with a church possessing valid sacraments demonstrating a very unguarded approach to their administration and sending a message that the church has given up on the exclusivity of marriage as the valid relationships within which to engage in sexual relationship and raise children.