Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Human Face of the Church

In Honors the other day, one of my fellow students remarked that back in Bede's time (we're reading The Ecclesiastical History of the English People) there weren't all the denominations we have today. You were Christian or you were pagan, that was it.

I respectfully disagreed. If you read Bede, you'll notice that he mentions the date of Easter roughly every other sentence. (Okay, so I exaggerate.) Almost the entire church in Ireland split off for a time because of two things: they celebrated Easter between the fourteenth and the twentieth day of the first full moon after the vernal equinox (rather than between the fifteenth and twenty-first days) and the priests cut their hair differently. (I kid you not. The way clergy cut their hair used to be a very important discipline.)

The Church has never, ever been perfectly united. At almost the same moment that Christ prayed "that they all may be one," Judas was getting his pieces of silver.

I believe that Christ founded His Church on Peter, otherwise I would not be Catholic. Thou art Peter and upon this rock... This rock. This fisherman from the hill country of a province of the Roman Empire, who spoke with a funny accent. The man who said that he would die with his Master and then denied Him three times.

This is our rock. The Catholic Church is Peter's church, with all its imperfections and failings and its scandalizing earthiness. It's a simple, concrete sort of religion, with stained glass and incense and statues in abundance, lest we all forget that we're in our church to think of God.

Yet it's Christ's church too. It's the church of Word-made-flesh, of a God who breathed and ate and drank and loved and suffered. It's the church of the one whose Cross was a scandal and a stumbling-block.

This is the Church against which the gates of Hell cannot prevail.


Shakespeare's Cobbler said...

"(I kid you not. The way clergy cut their hair used to be a doctrinal issue.)"
Doctrinal? Doctrine doesn't change. Official pastoral regulation (which are just as binding on us, but changeable according to _the Church's_ choice to adapt to situation, which doctrine is not), probably.

(I know you know that, I just bring it up because it confuses some people and we want to steer clear of confusion.)

The Sojourner said...

Thank you for pointing that out. I was using the term loosely, which is not a good thing to do when the Church's concept of "doctrine" is a very precisely defined thing.

Galadriel said...

Here's a question. How is it that believing that Peter is the rock on which Christ built His church is a sufficient cause for being a Catholic?

The Sojourner said...

Galadriel--That's not the only reason I'm Catholic. It is simply one of the things without which I would not remain Catholic. (If you want a more complete list of reasons, you'd have to give me time to get them orderly.)

Galadriel said...

Okay. Fair enough. (: I don't think it has to be an exclusively Catholic doctrine, though. After all, we presbyterians flatter ourselves that our system is based off Peter and the instructions given in Paul's pastoral letters too.