Thursday, February 01, 2007

Heresy and schism: an unfolding conversation

Just today I've discovered Dave Belcher and his blog, where he blogrolled me and linked to Marshall and I (and I think others, earlier) on our discussions on heresy and schism, and he has made his own contribution as well. Here is the relevant post. I began replying but found that my response was turning into a post in its own right, so here most of it is, with a few little changes.

Since so much of this is response, it really is important to go and see his original post and the distinctions he draws within it. It is a helpful illumining through the lens of Augustine and the Donatists. I will quote sections I am responding to below:

1) It is worth reinforcing that in my original post I was trying to find a common source for schism and heresy in human pride, rather than trying simply to equate (or conflate) the two.

2) As I have thought about it, though, it certainly seems as if they are related. I'm not at an end of my thinking, but I would say that it seems as if schism is a form of heresy. I have in mind, here, John 17:20-23, where Jesus is saying that our love and unity (effected by the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit) witness to the love and unity of the Son and the Father. For us to be rent asunder -- and that deliberately leaves ambiguous who rends and who is rent -- as schism does, separates the members of the Body of Christ, and in a real sense contradicts the truth of the unity of Father and Son (which I would take to be heresy).

Dave says: Augustine's point against the Donatists' conception of the necessity of right performance is that faith (moral purity) without an intentionality towards unity (caritas) is meaningless. In other words, if the minister and the recipient of Baptism are both pure in faith, but have no intention towards catholic unity (if they do not know how to love), then that faith is dead (James 2:26). This does not mean that dead faith is the same thing as heresy, however. Heresy is a strict contradiction of the faith (and here it is important to note that in early Christianity, especially in connection to Baptism, faith is often used to signify the Creed), whereas "dead faith" is a faith that does not lead to the "works" of charity (and the absence of charity--love--is the absence of unity...schism). The issue for me, here, is that if schism ruins one's faith in addition to the loss of charity, then what have those to give them hope? Is there not hope even for the one without faith? (recall that heretics are always instructed and disciplined in order that they might be brought back into reconciliation) Is there not hope even for the one without love? (and also recall how often Augustine lamented over the Donatists, and wished in all sincerity that they would return to unity--even as he severely demonstrates the errors of Petilianus' ways, for instance) But, without faith and love is there any place from which to reach out? To whom are we then reaching out? To those who have rejected unity, but in so doing have lost the gift of faith that first granted them Baptism? Are they then to be rebaptized? Is it not faith (and thus also the Creed) that first gives us the possibility of love (and thus also unity)?

3) As for your first point, drawing on Augustine, I may not fully grasp your point -- and if so, please inform me. But it seems to me that if faith without intentionality towards love is meaningless (that is, that faith implies and is expressed fully in love), then contradicting the faith (heresy) implies a lack of love (schism). To put it another way, the lack of love just does mean a lack of faith. (I need to be explicit here that I am taking a slight ambiguity in your entry, on faith (moral purity, creed) and bringing the two into close connection. I'm uncomfortable with the notion of 'creed' or 'faith' being only a matter of certain notions or propositions -- certainly they are at least that, but they are also much more!)

Dave's second (last) point: But, really, the issue is this: If we are indeed all schismatics, then doesn't that also make us all heretics? And if that is the case, what is necessary for unity? Simply a (re-)affirmation of faith? A wholesale rebaptism of all of Christianity? And at this point are we not rejecting the efficacy of all baptisms by virtue of the power of the Holy Spirit ("ex opere operato")?

4) And for your last point, which has some existential bite to it, I don't have an answer. I think it is worth letting ourselves be interrogated a bit, let ourselves doubt, not take refuge in conventional pieties solipsistic self-assurances*: maybe we are all schismatics, maybe we are all heretics? This isn't much different than many of us would confess already, that we are all schismatics and some of us are heretics, is it? Perhaps both the purity of truth and the fullness of love are only meant to be manifested eschatologically, that the optative mood in John is not meant for now but for the eschaton**, and our heresy and schism, while not acceptable, are nevertheless part of our present reality, living as a 'broken sign'.

There is of course more, much more, to be said, and I haven't even had a look yet at Marshall's latest post.

*(not that I'm saying you would, in particular, Dave -- I think it is a temptation for us all, at times.)
**I think this unlikely, but what if?

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Blogger Dave Belcher said...

Hi folks. I posted this on my blog in response to Jason. Hope this helps clarify some of my bumbling remarks. Peace.


Ok...I'm in a bit better state this morning. I now affirm Marhsall's theses. I really goofed on my whole response (you have to know me a bit better to know that I can be, as my wife says, "impulsive"--point in case: I've already had to make one significant "retraction" over the past couple of weeks here...I suppose this is #2).

So, let me just work through this a bit (for my own benefit and sanity--what remains of it). Schism, as a separation and isolation from the body of Christ, is a sin against the Holy Spirit, who is the bond of charity, who makes the body of Christ One (since, as Cyprian said, unity and love amount to the same thing). The North African Donatists relied on their predecessor, St. Cyprian, to make their case against Felix of Apthunga and Caecilian (who had been consecrated bishop of Carthage by Felix, who had further apparently handed over the sacred books during the imperial persecutions, yada, yada, yada). The Donatists' basic contention was with the [morally tainted] performance of the bishop, which to them meant that he could not confer sanctifying grace in baptism (and thus they were rebaptizing anyone from the Catholic communion who had also been "tainted" with Caecilian's immorality--or faithlessness). The issue was one of purity (which, really, goes back in North Africa to Tertullian--and is certainly strong in Cyprian). Augustine's response was thus forced to situate himself in deference to his "blessed St. Cyprian" (and the North African tradition) while sort of arguing against the Cyprianic position the Donatists were taking (which was also, in at least one sense, thoroughly Cyprianic...in regards to the exercise of the bishop, that is). The following is actually a quote from my thesis (that is how shortsighted I was in all of this...should give you an "in" to my "state" over the past couple of weeks...the quotes are from J. Patout Burns book, The Development of Augustine's Doctrine of Operative Grace): "[T]he Donatists had narrowed 'the standard which defines the true church to unfailing witness to the faith,' whereas Augustine emasculated such fideism by grounding the chief characteristic of the true church in charity, or love: 'Augustine explained that because charity actually contains and realizes the salvific elements of faith, a sin against charity is equivalent to denial of the faith'" (my thesis: "Baptism into the Poor Body of Christ: Or, How to Possess Nothing and Yet Have Everything" p. 30-something). So, this is a complete and utter affirmation of what you were saying Jason (again, I am really very sorry about my carelessness in all of this).

Ok. But, this does not address the last question of eschatology.

I address exactly this issue in my thesis as well (I don't know why my thesis is coming up so much, probably because it's still fresh in my mind). As I said, your proposal is a thoroughly Augustinian conception of the Church as a "mixed body"--saints and sinners both remain in the here and now...the goats will not be separated out from the sheep, nor the tares from the wheat until the Day of Judgment. This deferral is necessary for us--we must not be too hasty, lest we end up with an "ecclesial realized eschatology." Nevertheless, we must also recognize that the Church is called to visibly manifest the love which is its constitution...this is a restless moment within the Church, always calling us beyond where we are out into where God is moving us. Not willing to settle for either the already or the not yet, the Church must live in the paradox of the unity of the two (which means neither a hasty penchant for results--realized eschatology--or a complete deferral of visible unity--eschatological reserve)...or at lesat this is what I say in my thesis. The unity of the Church is not the Kingdom of God. This might seem a radical statement...I really sort of agree with W. Pannenberg that the Church's visible manifestation as the body of Christ is a "preparation" for the Kingdom of God (A. Schmemann says something very similar: the church is a "way-station" on the way to the Kingdom). So, I don't at all think we can put off unity...or, rather, I don't think that living in our brokenness--which I think is absolutely, very much right!--means living in the absence of unity (since this is to remain in sin...to remind us of St. Paul's words to the Romans: "What shall we say then? Shall we remain in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means!" 6:1-3). We are to live in unity despite our brokenness, as a testament to the faithfulness of God to take up even the lowest things into Godself--through Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit (we manifest this visibly by loving the saint and the sinner, while the saint is a witness to the sinner of the abundance of God's grace...and this is not at all a patripassianism, by the way: the Father "embraces" all of reality by saving and healing it though the work of Jesus Christ (and in this sense, I think many--cough, DB Hart, cough--have overlooked the significance of Moltmann's claim about Jesus "remaining" in Hell to break open the gates, treading a path to salvation even there). So, I suppose I would say that we cannot be content with schism, and the heresy to which it leads. We must always be a "church militant," as St. John Chrysostom, and Kierkegaard after him, said (what a pair!). We are all of us living in sin, and for that reason must turn to where God is leading us in this world--to God's very salvation already granted by Christ's atoning blood. The Church must revive its missionary status, in other words, and find that as we go out to the outcast, poor, orphaned, and widowed in this world, we ourselves find our own healing, the "re-membering" of the body of Christ (to quote William T. Cavanaugh) in our encounter with Christ in the lowest of places...we encounter our own pride in their humiliation, and are thus placed in a position to repent, and become God's gracious offer to a broken world. Peace.

Friday, February 02, 2007 4:05:00 PM  
Blogger Dave Belcher said...

Hey Jason, I hope this message didn't freak you out or scare you away or something. I've been extraordinarily busy over this past week, but I just wanted to let you know that I really do want to continue this conversation whenever time presents itself. Thanks again, and hope all is well! Peace.

Friday, February 09, 2007 12:39:00 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

No, not freaked out at all -- just busy, too! And I think, in part, that these conversations best unfold with a little time, instead of in quick blows.
I look forward to more conversation as well.

Friday, February 09, 2007 4:39:00 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

Hi again Dave,
After having read your comment again (after 7 days!) I am even more sorry that I dropped the ball in the conversation (not that I could have done much about it...busy week), because I really appreciate what you say here. It was helpful in sharpening some of my intuitions. (Where did you do your MA? It sounds like a good thesis...) More needs saying, there should be more conversation of course, but not just now -- I need to be somewhere! :-)

grace and peace,

Friday, February 09, 2007 4:48:00 PM  
Blogger Dave Belcher said...


No problem...like I said I've been really busy too, so I just have been checking my blogroll every once in a while to see how everybody's doing--no rush at all.

I am pretty much finished with my MA from Vanderbilt University...just paperwork at this point. I'm hoping I can condense my thesis to a 25-page version and send it off somewhere for publication--but that might be a while from now. If you're interested in looking at it some time, just let me know and I'll send it off (or, actually, it will most likely be available online through Vanderbilt's online thesis and dissertation library when all the paperwork is complete). Peace, and thanks for the comment!

Sunday, February 11, 2007 3:27:00 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

I'd love a copy of the thesis -- I won't distribute, of course.
And do you know Travis Ables? He's PhD at Vanderbilt, and I'm pleased to call him a friend. Give my greetings if you know him and see him.

Monday, February 12, 2007 12:24:00 AM  
Blogger Dave Belcher said...

Jason, you'll have to send me an email for the thesis...here's my address:



Tuesday, February 13, 2007 1:09:00 AM  

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