Thursday, May 1, 2008

Semper Reformanda?

If you make it an article of faith that your articles of faith are correct, or if you are required to confess that your confessions are correct, then isn't semper reformanda (the church reformed and always to be reformed) pretty much ruled out, at least as far as doctrine is concerned?

All that can be reformed, far as I can tell, is practice.

But a creedal error cannot be admitted or corrected. Whatever the Reformers didn't catch in time is now locked in. Am I missing something here? Or can something still be done to make a more thoroughgoing job of the Reformation?



William Weedon said...

I think you might have the wrong verbs running things. Through the Church God is always at work re-forming us, re-shaping us, con-forming us into the image of His beloved Son. Since that task on earth is never done, His Church's reformation task is ongoing. What get's dicey is when the Church recognizes in her own outward and visible life (expressed in her institutions) a contradiction between her inward and invisible life - her life in Christ - and such contradictions, when they rise, call always for correction, for re-forming and con-forming of her outward life to her true and never changing inward life: communion with the Father through the Incarnate Son and in the Holy Spirit.

William Weedon said...

Ack! I meant to write the wrong NOUNS running the verbs. GRR!

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Yeah, that's what I mean. I think. You can change your institutions, you can change your personal and/or corporate praxis, but what about your doctrine? What if THAT should need reform?

William Weedon said...

Well, I'm reminded of Krauth's words about our Symbols. It's not that we say that they couldn't err; it's that we say that they didn't err. They're not inspired, and they could be wrong; but we've not been persuaded yet that they ARE wrong.

Isn't it a bit the same in Orthodoxy? The belief is solidly there that what has been received is God's truth and cannot be diminished or augmented, though it can be more deeply understood, lived, and sung.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

On thing is, for us, "truth" is not a set of doctrines, but the Person of Jesus Christ. He is Truth. Doctrines describe Him. He never changes, but descriptions of Him (doctrines) always have infinite room for improvement in theory, although limited room for improvement given the constraints of language.

Another thing is, the Orthodox Church hasn't "painted herself into a corner" on very many details of things, though. Except basic Christology and Triadology. There are zillions of things on which she has made no official pronouncements.

But what nouns do you think I am missing that I ought to have, or have that I ought not have?

And I'm still not clear, but it sounds to me like your confirming what I said, that you can't "reform" your doctrine. Is that correct?

So semper reformanda refers to:
(a) persons
(b) institutions
(c) practices
(d) all of the above

but not to doctrine, right?

William Weedon said...

Not to doctrine in the sense of that which has been divinely revealed in and through Him who is the Truth Incarnate, which we apprehend by the grace and light of the Holy Spirit. But there IS a distinction between that revealed Truth in Jesus and how we think about and process that truth. The Church historically developed ways of speaking that she recognized as "sound" because they fit with that Truth. But she also recognized that new ways would be needed at times. Wasn't it St. Hilary who said that the heretics compel us to put into words things that should be left unsaid? Something like that. So to safeguard the primal truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the very Life of the Father in human flesh and blood, the Church has constructed, under the Spirit's guidance, her confessions. They largely serve as "fences" - apophatic, I think you'd call it. But they seek to preserve the Mystery of Godliness by not positively defining. When a new error creeps up, the Church may need to revise her confession and come up with the language that can safeguard against it. In that sense, the schemata of the doctrine may be changeable, in order to safeguard the unchangeable Truth confessed within it, and yet who always is beyond confession and being.

But the truth is that truly new errors haven't seem to crop up. The same old errors persist: Pelagianism, Manichaeism, Nestorianism, and so on. Against these the Church's doctrine seems adequately and more than adequately confessed in the Symbols. So the doctrine is not reformable in the sense that the need to reform, to reshape it to counter a new error, seems unlikely to arise.

Does that make any sense?

William Weedon said...

Said another way:

Possible, but unlikely and unneeded.

William Weedon said...

By the way, you might be interested in how our Synodical Explanation to Luther's Small Catechism defines the faith:

Question 1: "What is Christianity?"

Answer 1: "Christianity is the life and salvation God has given in and through Jesus Christ."

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

"Does that make any sense?"

Not really, not to me.

I notice you didn't include papism in your list of errors. The Reformers corrected some of that, but what if it turns out they weren't thorough enough? What if there are some aspects of papism they didn't catch, they (having been brought up in it, after all) accidentally bought into? Is it too late, now, to reform those doctrinal errors? Can that kind of reforming be ongoing, or is it all set in stone by now?

William Weedon said...

What particular aspects of papism do you think the Lutherans unwittingly retained? I would suspect you'd say the penal atonement, though I'd invite a consideration of how they kept it running right alongside of Christus victor and never supplanting it, but filling in the wider picture, if you will. But aside from that, what else?

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Dear William,

Scroll down to previous post, "Mopre Papal Doctrines" in which I've listed 8 altogether.