Saturday, July 26, 2008

Bonhoeffer on heresy

“We have lost the concept of heresy because there is no longer any magisterium. This is a terrible catastrophe. The present ecumenical councils [(of Lausanne, Stockholm, etc.)] are not quite councils because the name of heresy has been expunged from their vocabulary. But we cannot have a confession of faith without being able to say: in the light of Christ, this is true and this is false. . . . The concept of heresy arises from the brotherhood of the Church and not from a lack of love. A man acts fraternally with regard to another if he does not hide the truth from him. If I do not tell the truth to my neighbor, I treat him as a pagan. And if I tell the truth to someone who is of another opinion, I show him the love I owe him.”

     Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the Nicene anathemas, Gesammelte Schriften 3, Theologie, Gemeinde:  Vorlesungen, Briefe, Gespräche, 1927 bis 1944 (München:  Chr. Kaiser, 1960), 206, as quoted by Bertrand de Margerie, S.J., in The Christian Trinity in history, trans. Edmund J. Fortman, S.J., Studies in historical theology 1 (Still River, MA: St. Bede’s Publications, 1982), 98.  This appears in DBWE 12 as
For us the concept of heresy no longer exists, because there is no longer a doctrinal authority vested in councils.  Our ecumenical councils of today are anything but councils, because the word heresy has been struck from our vocabulary.  And yet the concept of heresy is a necessary, nonnegotiable factor for the confessing church.  Doctrine must always be set over against false doctrine; otherwise one does not know what doctrine means.  However, care must be taken that the concept of heresy be one that is used by the church out of love, not out of lack of love.  For if I do not speak the truth to my brethren, I am considering them as heathens; if I do speak the truth to them, I am doing it out of love.
     Lectures on Christology (student notes), Summer 1933, Berlin:  1932-1933, ed. Larry L. Rasmussen, trans. Isabel Best & David Higgins, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works 12 (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 2009), 332 =Dietrich Bonhoeffer Werke, ed. Carsten Nicolaisen & Ernst-Albrecht Scharffenorth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Werke 12 (München:  Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1997), 316.

John and Polycarp on heretics

"There are those who have heard [Polycarp] tell how when John the disciple of the Lord went to bathe at Ephesus, and saw Cerinthus inside, he rushed out of the bath without washing, but crying out, 'Let us escape, lest the bath should fall while Cerinthus the enemy of the truth is in it.' Polycarp himself, when Marcion once met him and said, 'Do you know us?' answered, 'I know you, the first-born of Satan.' The apostles and their disciples took such great care not even to engage in conversations with the corrupters of the truth, as Paul also said, 'A heretical man [(ἁιρετικὸν ἄνθρωπον)] after a first and second warning avoid, knowing that such a man has fallen away and is a sinner, being self-condemned.'"

     Irenaeus, Against heresies 3.3.4, trans. Edward Rochie Hardy (LCC 1, 374). The words of Paul are taken from Titus 3:10-11 (αἱρετικὸν ἄνθρωπον μετὰ μίαν καὶ δευτέραν νουθεσίαν παραιτοῦ, εἰδὼς ὅτι ἐξέστραπται ὁ τοιοῦτος καὶ ἁμαρτάνει ὢν αὐτοκαθάκριτος).  "Irenaeus, who was a native of Smyrna, states that he met [Polycarp] as a child and hear him speak of his acquaintance with 'John,' whom he identified as the apostle.  In all likelihood, he was probably referring to 'John the presbyter' whom Papias explicitly distinguished from the apostle John (cf. Eus., HE 3,39,4)" (Encyclopedia of ancient Christianity, ed. Di Berardino, sv Polycarp, by P. Nautin).

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sesboüé claims that ideas have consequences

"The tragedy of this logic of opposition is that it backfires on the affirmation of the glory of God; and in the same stroke, it turns on man as well, as the sequence of history (which obeys a whole set of factors) shows. For Luther, 'God can only be everything, if man is nothing.' But man does not feel like nothing, and later would [therefore] think it necessary to affirm himself against God. Fr. Sesboüé summarizes this process:

'The same line of thought leads Protestantism to exalt the sovereignty of God (i.e. Calvin’s soli Deo gloria). But this affirmation seems to be made at the expense of man, as though the lower man is, the more proportionally greater God is; as though uplifting man constitutes an attempt on divine glory. Is there not a certain dualism here, structured on a principle of rivalry? . . . But we are far-removed from Irenaeus’ beautiful phrase: "The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God." Hence, understandably, such a unilateral goal was deemed intolerable and historically gave birth to its opposite, i.e. the demand for a human autonomy which would banish God.'"


Charles Morerod, O.P., Ecumenism and philosophy: philosophical questions for a renewal of dialogue, trans. Therese C. Scarpelli (Ann Arbor, MI: Sapientia Press, 2006 [2004]), 114-115. The words "God can only be everything, if man is nothing" are not Luther's, but Chantraine's. These are sweeping remarks that a specialist could probably pick effortlessly to pieces. Still, Sesboüé and Morerod are on to something, it seems to me. Ecumenism and philosophy is far from a great book, but could well still be right. Michael Root concurs, more or less, although he thinks that "the fine grain of particular disputes is lost" (Modern theology 24, no. 3 (July 2008): 507-508). Interesting to me is the fact that the Orthodox theologian Yannaras levels the very same charge against Catholicism: "The endeavor of Gothic architecture is to elicit an emotional response by demonstrating intellectually the antithesis of natural and supernatural, human smallness and the transcendent authority, the power from on high": "'It was nevertheless the art of the Gothic cathedrals which, in the whole of Christendom, then became the instrument--perhaps the most effective one--of Catholic repression': Duby, L'Europe des Cathédrales, p. 72. Direct experience alone can justify and verify these conclusions. In the cathedrals of Cologne, Milan or Ulm, and other European cities, anyone with experience of the theology and art of the Eastern Church can see the ways in which man revolts against this transcendent authority which is expressed with genius in architecture: it is an authority which humiliates and degrades human personhood and even ultimately destroys it. Revolt is inevitable against such a God, who consents to encounter man on a scale of such crushing difference in size" (Christos Yannaras, "The ethos of liturgical art," in The freedom of morality, trans. Elizabeth Briere, Contemporary Greek theologians 3 (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1984), 242-243, 243n19). So if Yannaras in defense of the Reformers is preposterous, then perhaps Sesboüé in dismissal of them is, too. Or there is a measure of truth in both (since individual Reformers and Catholics both, though Catholics, weren't speaking ex cathedra). Or only one is right. And from where I sit, that would have to be Sesboüé. For it would be virtually impossible to show, as Yannaras claims, that the Summa theologiae "demonstrat[es] intellectually the antithesis of natural and supernatural"! No, gratia non tollit naturam, sed perficit.