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The Catholic 'Both/Ands' are a Key to Finding the Fullness of Christian Faith

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.
6/14/2012 (4 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Often, we find that truth in its fullness is a conjunction or combination of two truths

Often, we find that truth in its fullness is a conjunction or combination of two truths.  To stress one over the other or to the exclusion of the other is the definition of heresy.  Truth is often conjunctive and not disjunctive. This reality is what is at the heart of the "Catholic Ands."  We find that if we have a conjunctive or both/and notion of truth we end up with more Christianity, rather than less.

Often, we find that truth in its fullness is a conjunction or combination of two truths

Often, we find that truth in its fullness is a conjunction or combination of two truths

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - The famous Protestant theologian Karl Barth is said to have commented on the Catholic insistence that Revelation is found in both Scripture and Tradition as that "damned Catholic 'And,'" das verdammte katholische 'und.' 

What Barth meant disparagingly is a badge we ought to wear with pride, for the fact is that the "Catholic And" is found all over Catholic doctrine, and we would be fools to replace the rich (and true) "Catholic And" with the poor (and untrue) "Protestant onlies" such as is found in the fundamental and dismal Protestant doctrines of sola fides, sola scriptura, sola gratia, only Faith, only Scripture, only Grace.

Often, we find that truth in its fullness is a conjunction or combination of two truths.  To stress one over the other or to the exclusion of the other is the definition of heresy.  Truth is often conjunctive (both X and Y), and not disjunctive (either X or Y, but not both).  This reality is what is at the heart of the "Catholic Ands."  We find that if we have a conjunctive or both/and notion of truth we end up with more Christianity, rather than less.

Let us look over some of the more important "Catholic Ands"

Perhaps the most famous "Catholic Ands" are found in the Church's Christological dogmas.  These dogmas protect the truth that Jesus is both fully God and fully man.  Thankfully, our Protestant brothers share in these "Catholic Ands" with us.

The Christological controversies where the doctrine of Christ as both God and man was defined lasted centuries and engaged many minds and many councils, but the central theme of this period was that the Church insisted on the "Catholic And" against any heresiarch who denied it.

For example, the Ebionites denied that Jesus was both God and man and insisted he was just a man.  Against the Ebionites, the Church said that Jesus was both true God and true man, and not man alone.  A "Catholic And."

The Docetists were another heresy that denied the fundamental truth that Jesus was both God and man.  The Docetists (the word comes from Greek dokein, "to seem") insisted that Jesus just appeared to be a man, but was not really so.  Jesus was God alone.  Against this heresy, the Church insisted that Jesus was fully God and fully man.

The Arian heresy came from the priest Arius.  He made the mistake of holding the Son of God to be a creature; to be sure, the first and greatest creature of God, but a creature nonetheless.  For Arius, therefore, the Son of God was not of the same substance or being with the Father (in Greek, homoousious); rather, he was a similar, but lesser substance (in Greek, homoiousious).  This little iota or "i" of a difference caused a lot of uproar, and it seemed almost to take over the Christian world until the champion St. Athanasius insisted on the orthodox and received doctrine that the Son of God was the same substance as God the Father, and therefore, Jesus was both very God and very man.

The Nestorians refused to believe that the person of the Son of God had two natures.  They insisted that the Son of God had only one nature, a divine one, but not a human nature.  The human nature is tied to a human person, but not the divine one; hence, it was error, they believed, to call Mary the Mother of God, the Theotokos.  Against this heresy, the Church insisted on the "Catholic And."  The Son of God has two natures, a divine nature and a human nature.

There are numerous other Christological heresies where the principle was applied.  Against the Monophysites (who believed that Jesus had only one nature (in Greek, physis), the divine having assumed and pretty much wiped out the human, the Church insisted that Christ had two natures, man and God.  The Monothelites argued that Jesus had but one will, a divine will, not two wills.  (The Greek word for "will" is thelema.)  But the Church insisted that Jesus had a divine will and a human will, though assuredly the human will was in perfect accord with the divine will.

Moving away from Christology, we find a central "Catholic And" in the area of anthropology.  The Church insists that man is made of both spiritual soul and material body.  To suggest that man is nothing but matter is to lapse into the error of materialism.  To suggest that man is really just a spiritual being which lives in a sort of disposal body is to fall into a dualism such as we find in Plato or Descartes.  The full truth is that man is both spiritual soul and body, and this important "Catholic And" is what drives, for example, John Paul II's important "Theology of the Body" and underlies the importance of our belief in the Resurrection of the Body.

Another historically important "Catholic And" is found in the so-called filioque controversy.  The controversy is named after the fact that the Catholic creed contains the doctrine that Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son," ex Patre Filioque procedit.  This "Catholic And" still splits the Orthodox Church (which believes that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone) and the Roman Catholic Church.

Another "Catholic And" relates to nature and grace.  A fundamental Catholic maxim is that grace builds upon and perfects nature; it does not destroy it.  Gratia supponit naturam.  In other words, when speaking of the moral life or of salvation, we have to think in terms of both nature and grace.  It is an error to talk of nature alone (such as the heretic Pelagius did) or to talk of grace alone (such as the Protestants did and still do).  The "Catholic And."

Yet another "Catholic And" relates to the role of Faith and Reason.  The Catholic Church insists that God's truth is found in both Faith and Reason.  Indeed, that very important "Catholic And" is found as a title of a marvelous encyclical by John Paul II which addresses just this point, Fides et Ratio, Faith and Reason.  "Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth," are the words which begin this important encyclical.  If one relies on faith alone without reason, one lapses into fideism.  If one relies on reason alone without faith, one falls into the error of rationalism.

Turning now to the "Catholic And" which so irked the Swiss Calvinistic theologian Karl Barth.  Following the lead of Luther, the Protestant reformers insisted that Revelation was contained only in Scripture (sola Scriptura).  This was a novel doctrine invented by the Protestant reformers, nowhere ever held by the Church.  In conformity with the received doctrine, the Church, in the Council of Trent, insisted that the deposit of faith, that is to say the revealed Word of God, was found in both Scripture and the oral Tradition of the Apostles.
 
In addition to the deposit of the faith being found in both Scripture and Tradition, the Council of Trent battled other "Protestant onlys" insisting on "Catholic Ands."  The reason the Church had to do this was because the Protestant innovators were trying to rub out a number of "Catholic Ands" and replace them with "Protestant onlys."

For example, the Council of Trent countered the doctrinal innovation of the Protestant reformers that one was justified only by faith (sola fides), and that works were of therefore no account.  Works followed, but did not walk with faith.  Against this "Protestant only," the Catholic Church posed a balanced "Catholic And."  The Church remembered the apostolic doctrine as contained in the Epistle of James: "So also faith, if it have not works is dead in itself."  (James 2:17) (By the way, Luther, since it contradicted his innovations, called the epistle of James ein recht strohern Epistel, "truly an epistle of straw," a rather temerarious way to handle God's Word) 

The Church also knew that Luther had intentionally mistranslated Romans 3:28 to add the word "alone" when it was nowhere to be found there.  So the Church insisted that faith and works, albeit all works under the mantle of grace, were necessary for justification.  And the Church deftly sailed in between the errors of Pelagius (only works) and the errors of Luther (only faith) and insisted on the fullness of truth found in the "Catholic And."  This was "more Christianity," not less.

Another such "Protestant only" was the notion of sola gratia, or grace alone.  The Protestants insisted that one was saved by the merits of grace alone, so that it seemed that all was done by unilateral activity of God and that a saved man simply was lucky enough to be one of the predestined recipients of this arbitrary grace, and that works or effort, even under the influence of grace, had nothing to do with it  Against this novelty, the Church remembered traditional teaching such as that found in St. Augustine's famous maxim found in one of his Sermons that "God who created you without you will not save you without you."  Grace and free will, gratia et libero arbitrio, operated together.  Another "Catholic And."

Finally, we might point to the Protestant view that there was only one priesthood, that of Christ, in which all believers participated in the "priesthood of all believers."  Through this doctrine, the Protestant believers gutted the received notion of the ministerial priesthood.  Again, in the Council of Trent the Church returned with the "Catholic And."  The truth is that there is both the priesthood of all believers and the ministerial priesthood.

A central "Catholic And" is found in the heart of the Church's teaching on conjugal life and is found confirmed in that great, though poorly received encyclical of Pope Paul VI, Humanae vitae.  The conjugal act-the sexual act between man and wife-has two purposes: procreative and unitive.  To suggest that these two purposes can be divided, so that the conjugal act is justified by reference to procreation alone or that the sexual act need not be open to life-is a moral error of first proportion.  It violates against the "Catholic And."

Modernly, we might point to the denial of another "Catholic And," and this in the particular area of morality.  We find that freedom is often opposed to law.  Modern man seems to believe that law and freedom are opposed to each other.  As John Paul II observed in his encyclical on moral matters, Veritatis splendor, "some present-day cultural tendencies have given rise to several currents of thought in ethics which center upon an alleged conflict between freedom and law." 

Law robs us of freedom and of autonomy goes the argument; therefore, there is only such a thing as freedom, and Christians are not constrained by law.  Against this, John Paul II-again insisting on the "Catholic And"-stated that there is no conflict between authentic freedom and an objective moral law, and that the reality of the matter is that we are both free and under law.  (Veritatis splendor, Nos. 35-56). 

There are a whole series of "Catholic Ands" in which we may relish: God is both transcendent and immanent.  God is both just and merciful.  Jesus is both priest and victim.  Jesus, the one mediator, and Mary, the mediatrix of all graces.  The Church is an institution both human and divine.  The Mass is both a sacrifice and a communal thanksgiving meal.  We must love God and love our neighbor.  We must obey our conscience and follow the teachings of the Magisterium.  The list goes on and on.

As Fr. Dwight Longenecker observed in his book More Christianity: Finding the Fullness of Faith, when one rejects and "either/or" mentality and adopts in its place a Catholic "both/and" attitude, we are admitted into the world of the "Catholic Ands."  And it is here, in the world of "Catholic Ands," that we always find "more Christianity," rather than less.

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Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is married with three children.  He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum.  You can contact Andrew at agreenwell@harris-greenwell.com.

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