Monday, October 10, 2005

Communications through and in

I really enjoy Alvin Kimmel's blog, Pontifications. It's a great place to try and learn some theology and witness some very good writing and thinking. Kimmel is new to the Catholic faith (like yours truly) and is a former Anglican minister (unlike yours truly). One of the things he regards very highly is the value of sacramental theology, which the Catholic Church certainly upholds. It was one of the things that drew me to it, too. So I have been enjoying his rebuttals to another theologian by the name of Paul Zahl. Zahl would appear to think that Christ left the building at the ascention, leaving only the Holy Spirit. Kimel writes of Zahl that:
While grace is the central feature of his theology and is formulated along Lutheran lines, it has been detached from Luther’s incarnational vision and reinterpreted within the iconoclasm of the Swiss reformers. Thus Zahl’s emphatic rejection of Catholic and Orthodox sacramentalism. This rejection is not grounded upon the witness of the Bible. It is a product of Dr. Zahl’s metaphysical commitments and his embrace of a problematic construal of deity.
My concern is that by leaning hard on one part of the Trinity - and the most formless part as well, ie. the Holy Spirit - Zahl's vision of Christianity is very bland and very easy to bend and twist this way and that. Sacraments are public acts that bind the community; they are quite different from private revelation. We can dispute what they mean and how they are to be done, but they are not merely private. Kimmel concludes his latest post on the subject thusly, arguing that Luther himself retained a lot of the Catholic's sacramental vision and that not doing so is a large error:
At the Colloquy of Marburg, Martin Luther broke the unity of the Reformation. He refused Eucharistic fellowship with the Reformed. Why? Because he knew that the differences between Zwingli and himself went to the very heart of the gospel. The God of the Bible, the God who justifies by faith alone, is a God who loves to communicate himself through and in the concrete realities of the world he has made. He is a God of Incarnation and sacrament. He is a God with a body. At this point, Luther remained very much the Catholic. In the writings of Paul Zahl we meet the modern Anglican equivalent of Ulrich Zwingli. I know that Zahl represents an extreme Protestant position. Most evangelical Anglicans of my acquaintance have a higher, more Calvinistic view of the sacraments. But the iconoclastic voice of Geneva remains strong. Evangelicals still remain alienated from the powerful incarnational vision of Luther. They do not see the deep connection between grace and sacrament. They do not see that their arguments against sacraments are easily turned against the Incarnation itself. They do not see that to divorce the gospel from its ritual embodiments is to construct an unbiblical God, a fleshless God, a graceless God, a very ordinary spiritual God. Mir aber des Gottes nicht!
Here are links to Kimel's posts, in order: Zahlian Iconoclasm Paul Zahl and the absent Body Mir aber des Gottes nicht! Kimel also has an interesting post on the improving relations between Lutherans and Catholics. Here is a snip of it to whet your interest:
After years of intense research and dialogue on the theme of justification, Lutherans and Catholics have discovered that the anathemas of the 16th century no longer obtain, given what each Church actually believes and teaches about justification. Catholics are now persuaded that Lutherans do not presently teach, and quite likely never did teach, the errors condemned by the Council of Trent—specifically, that justification is a legal fiction and that believers can rely upon their subjective exercise of faith for assurance of salvation. Lutherans are now persuaded that Catholics do not presently teach, and quite likely never did teach, the errors condemned by Luther and the Lutheran confessions—specifically, that salvation is achieved by the believer’s spiritual and moral works. In the late 1990’s Lutherans and Catholics finally reached a formal consensus on justification. Yes, differences remain, but they are not considered as church-dividing. One can hold a Lutheran understanding of justification by faith, as defined by the document, and be a Roman Catholic in good standing!

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