Thursday, March 11, 2004

Where to begin?

Hello everyone – sorry to have been “gone” so long. I was on Spring Break, visiting my beautiful fiancée in Slovakia. I had a wonderful time despite the bitter cold and 4pm sunsets. Enough autobiography – to the issue(s) at hand. The formidable Treatise is our locus, but what a diversity of concerns it addresses: authority, structure, orders, the Petrine ministry, spiritual vs. temporal authority – just to name a few. So, where to begin? It seems to me that before approaching the See of Rome in any particularity, we must seek to discern what institution and structure mean in the context of a historical ecclesiology. For if it posses any rôle at all, the pontificate certainly would posses it within and only within this matrix.

Let us begin by considering the concept of institution abstractly/metaphysically with the hermeneutic of the four causes:

1. Efficient Cause – to institute is synonymous with to establish. An institution, then, appeals to a founder who is the sine qua non of its existence. Now the efficient cause can be seen in two different modes. In one way, it can start a process that is then seemingly self-sufficient. However, it can also be seen as an ongoing efficient cause – such as sunlight is to the warmth of the planet. Analogously, the institutor can have two possible modes of efficacious causality with the institution.
2. Final Cause – action is dynamic in that it has a ‘towardness’, an end. An institution, in the mind of its founder as well as in its own historical dynamic, has a purpose. Should the institutor remain as an ongoing, interactive efficient cause, he can do so within the life of the institution. Thus he is efficient and purposive agent of this dynamic towardness.
3. Material Cause – in a sense, the institution itself is the material. To this we must add that in the case of an institutor who remains within the institution as an ongoing efficient and purposive agent we have an incorporation (etymologically literal in the case of the church) of the institutor and institution.
4. Formal Cause – the institution qua material is endowed with the form of institution. This form reflects the efficiency and intentionality of the institutor. Depending on ongoing presence of the institutor, the form of the institute can reflect and even participate in the very form of the institutor.

The ongoing, indwelling efficient cause of the institution of the church is solely the Three-Personed God. In a special sense, Christ enjoys a unique rôle in this economy, as Chris rightly puts, “this Church belongs to Christ and to Christ alone. Why do I say that? Because I had nothing to do with its purchase... it was Christ's body and blood that paid for it...” Thus Christ acting within the Trinity exclusively instituted the church. The Apostles were not helpers in the absolute, efficient sense of the word. In other words, God in Christ is the plenary efficient cause. Likewise, the final cause – the end – is the perichoretic communion, the Trinity. It is immediately obvious that the efficient cause and the final cause are radically one and the same. Thus, in the presence of the Incarnate Word, the βασιλεια is at hand – as a dynamic reign that causes to be and draws in that which it has caused.

Where does that leave the other two causes – the material and the formal? The institution as the Body of Christ with Christ as the Head is the best Biblical image for the material institution. Thus the scholastics refer to the grace of Christ as capital grace. Aquinas writes in ST III:8:5 that there is no real distinction between capital grace and personal grace, or the grace that Christ as Head bestows on us through the Holy Spirit. Such is the unity between the head and the body animated by one Spirit that the grace is radically one grace flowing from Christ’s headship. Continuing with the analogy of the mystical body, there is an organic ordering principle evident in the formal causality bestowed by the efficient/final cause onto the material in radical union with him.

This formal aspect has an interior and an exterior manifestation. Interiorly, we are con-formed to Christ – we are moved internally by grace to a loving relationship of faith. This corresponds to the first part of the Shema (Dt 6:4-5) quoted by Christ in the Gospels –“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The conformity to Christ is worked in the individual, in diverse ways, by the gifts of the Spirit. There is a corresponding exterior and communal aspect of the Shema that draws all into this con-forming unity – “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The unity we share in Christ’s body is a remarkable model of this two-fold conformity to Christ worked in the mystery of his Headship – his Capital Grace. This unity, informed by the vision of a shared faith, is wrought by the Ur-gift of the Holy Spirit – charity.

A look at 1 Corinthians 12-13 puts this action into perspective. There is an immense diversity of spiritual gifts. They manifest in individuals in manifold ways. All are equally loved and drawn into communion with God, but this is carried out in different ways. Furthermore, the differences among individuals are somehow important in fellowship of the Church. What unites this diverse group? Looking to the next chapter, we see Paul’s answer – love. Love is given priority, even, over the other theological virtues in that it unites and vivifies the other virtues vis-à-vis relating the individual to God and his Assembly. So, in a radical sense, charity (united with faith and hope) as a gift of the Holy Spirit is the ordering principle in the People of God as the Body of Christ.

Apostleship is given a priority of sorts in the latter part of chapter of 12 leading up to 13. One might say that apostleship participates in the unitive action of charity. Thus Christ, after asking Peter thrice “do you love me”, responds to Peter’s “yes” with “feed my sheep.” (Jn 21: 17-18) The mission of the apostle is to “preside in charity” (Ignatius of Antioch, Ep. ad. Rom., 1,1). The formal causality of the institution of the Church admits of an ordering principle, a structure, if you will. But in the Body of Christ, this ordering principle is none other than charity as the fundamental gift of the Holy Spirit to the baptized faithful. This is an ordering principle given to all, but it is specially manifested in the apostolic munus for the sake of unity in diversity. It necessarily has a visible dimension as it is particularly for the sake of a community. Again, the apostolic ministry is visible precisely in that it is for the community. How else could it really be societal? Furthermore, in that it is a unitive visible ministry, it follows that it is manifest in a visible unity rather than an indistinct plurality.

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