The Scotist, CWOB, and the Eschaton

The Scotist has re-emerged (presumably following the end of the semester…) with some posts, notably one circling back to a previous post on Communion Without Baptism (CWOB). Here he mentions some and engages other issues that I’ve taken with his position but, in effect, states that his argument still stands. So—here are a few thoughts back at him.

I’ll start with his earlier post first.

Regarding section I

Citing some words by Christopher he begins by questioning the necessity of Baptism:

Someone might say, quite correctly it seems to me,

it is by the Font that we are visibly, explicitly, personally made and recognized as members of Christ’s Body,

and that truth concerns what God has ordained; being part of Christ’s body requires being baptized with water. But God is also quite free to include whomever he pleases in the Church without using Baptism as a means. To deny this would be to deny that God could have done otherwise than institute the sacrament of Baptism as a condition for membership in the Church; to accept this is to admit God may operate by his absolute power to attain ends by means apart from those he has revealed to us as means. I am not sure God is obliged to divulge all his means to us.

I would agree with the Scotist that God is not constrained by Baptism—he may bestow his grace upon those as he wills through whatever means he wishes. But the Scotist makes two errors here. First, he has elided the operation of two different channels: there are ordinary channels of grace that God has instituted in the Scriptures and in the life of the Church, then there are the extraordinary channels which God is free to use as he wills.

The ordinary channels are most clearly presented to us in the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matt 28:19-20). We have been given a mandate to use the channels of Baptism as the means by which individuals are joined to the Church and given grace and the Holy Spirit. To recognize that extraordinary channels exist in no ways denies or invalidates the ordinary channels which the Scotist seems to be suggesting.

Rather, the question should be framed thusly: when it appears that God’s extraordinary grace has led someone to the confession of Christ and to the door of the church and perhaps even to the altar apart from Baptism, should the ordinary means be used or dispensed with? My response, of course, is that the ordinary means (which are the clearest and most express revelation on the matter) are to be followed.

The second error, it seems to me, is that the Scotist speaks rather blithely about the gift of God’s grace incorporating a person into the Church. And here we’ve got a problem. It’s one thing to say that God has acted upon a person to move them or even sanctify them apart from the usual means of grace; it is another to refer to inclusion into the Church. The reception of grace and inclusion into the Church are two different things. For one, the Church is, among other things, a visible institution having a specific incarnate existence where individuals gather locally to express the eschatological and sacramental reality of the Body of Christ. The confusion of these two things opens the door for much confusion later.

Regarding section III

The Scotist fears that we have lost the art of hospitality—and here I agree with him. In fact, I believe that it’s because of this loss that the whole topic of hospitality is so often abused in this discussion. Classical expressions of hospitality, to which the Scotist nods in his mention of Priam’s visit to Achilles and the three visitors coming to Abram and Sarai, were structured around the recognition of reciprocal roles. Being a host was a duty with concrete obligations and expectations. But this was no less true for the guest. Yes, we operate in a debased society with an atrophied sense of hospitality but we still retain a notion of this. It’s one thing for me to invite a stranger or a distant acquaintance into my house. If they proceed, then, to leave the room into which I had invited them so that they could wander upstairs into my bedroom and  paw through my dresser drawers, I would be justifiable annoyed. Such a guest would have breached even our vague understanding of the role of the guest.

In a church building and within a liturgy, the priest stands in the role of the steward. He or she acts on behalf of the master of the household and has been entrusted with maintaining good order. Guests may enter and have absolutely no sense of their role as guests. At this point it is the role of the priest to clarify the rules of hospitality. This is best done under the following form: “We invite all baptised Christians to the altar to receive if that is your desire. If you have not been baptized or if you do not wish to receive, you are still welcome to come to the altar; please cross your arms across your chest and I will give you a blessing. If you are interested in receiving baptism or hearing more about it, please speak to one of us on the way out…” In communicating these norms, the priest has discharged the steward’s duty. At this point the obligations of hospitality fall upon the guest. The guest must then decide whether to abide by the hospitality offered by steward or whether to disregard them.

The Scotist writes:

It is rather that there is something wrong with a host who will not take care of the guests, and who will not see that they have what they need. In the case of the unbaptized, we know what they need–Jesus–and we can offer him in the sacrament of the Altar.

The problem here is one of presumption. Yes, the unbaptized guest does need Jesus. But how should the guest be introduced to Jesus? Do we presume to violate our ordinary means and to rush a guest into an act for which they may neither be ready for or desire or do we inform the guest that such things as ordinary means even exist? In the Scotist’s presumption, the guest—apparently—is not informed or given a choice; those who have put themselves in the position of the host have forced their decision upon the guest in the guise of hospitality. Rules are broken at the expense of the guest whether that is the guest’s desire or not.

Regarding section IV

The Scotist’s initial formulation makes no sense:

[A1] (1) If CWOB is forbidden, God is not omnipotent.
(2) God is omnipotent.
Thus, (3) CWOB is permitted.

There is absolutely no connection between the two clauses in A1(1). The Scotist hopes to plug this brigade-sized hole with a number of syllogisms. Here’s the first:

[A2] (1) Suppose CWOB is forbidden.
(2) If CWOB is forbidden, then God cannot save all human beings.
(3) If God is omnipotent, then God can save all human beings.
Thus, (4) God is not omnipotent.

Again—logic fail in step 2. No connection has been made between salvation and reception of the Eucharist. We are then given a third attempt to plug what seems to be a widening rather than closing hole:

[A3] (1) If God can save all humans beings, we are obligated to hope that God does save all human beings.
(2) If we are obligated to hope that God does save all human beings, then CWOB is permitted.
(3) Suppose CWOB is forbidden.
Thus, (4) God cannot save all human beings.

Logic fail from A2(2) is merely continued here. No connection has been made between salvation and reception of the Eucharist. But the hole continues to get wider due to the curious relationship between A3(2-4). Again, there is no direction connection made between the two clauses in A3(2). Yes, I hope that God will save all beings. However, my hope has no clear bearing on the Church’s Eucharistic practice. 3 and 4 remain fundamentally unproven and there is no logical connection drawn between them; they are simply a reversal of the still unconnected A3(2).

Here’s the next attempt to breach what was a gap and is now in danger of becoming a yawning chasm:

[A4](1)If the church is permitted to hope that all humans are saved, then it is permitted to act on the hope that all humans are saved.
(2)The church is permitted to hope that all humans are saved.
Thus, (3) the church is permitted to act on the hope that all humans are saved.

The two clauses in A4(1) do not cohere. Hope of a future situation does not necessarily grant permission to act a certain way now. My future hope is that the lion will lay down with the lamb. If I put my lamb next to a lion now, the lion will receive a tasty dinner and I’ll be out one lamb. Hoping that all will be saved in the future does not give me the right to act as if they are now. And, furthermore, we continue to compound the initial logic fail: No connection has been made between salvation and reception of the Eucharist.

Eucharist and the Eschaton

At this point, I’m going to make a preemptive move. If I recall correctly, the Scotist in posts prior to these had pinned his universalist hopes upon an interpretation of Isa 25:6-9. This passage from what’s known as Isaiah’s Apocalypse gives a beautiful image of communion with God, a literal feasting with the Lord. However, the argument that the Scotist attempts to derive from it is, according to my understanding, exegetically untenable. The chief problem is that Scotist has been deceived by his English-language Bible.

Here’s Isa 25:6 from the NRSV: “Isaiah 25:6  On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.” It’s easy enough to read here “all people” rather than “all peoples” and to read a universalism of sorts into it. To do so is to mistake the meaning of the text. The word rendered “peoples” by the NRSV really is a plural collective noun that refers to multiple national, linguistic, ethnic, or cultural groupings of people all coming together; it does not mean all individuals. The Hebrew word is ‘am and is accurately rendered in the Septuagint as ethneis and the Vulgate as populis. “Nations” might be a less easily mistaken English synonym but contains a governmental notion that the Hebrew word lacks.

We further note that Isaiah’s text is figural, not literal, and as such is subject to the rules for figural interpretation. Augustine laid down the principles in De Doct Chr 3.10-29 that nothing is taught in figures which is not taught plainly elsewhere in Scripture. This image participates in the broader Zion theology taught in Deutero-Isaiah and most specifically in the passage that we use in Morning Prayer as the Third Song of Isaiah (Surge Illuminare) from Isaiah 60. The New Testament picks this up in a host of ways, most specifically in Rev 20-1 where the image of the Bride of the Lamb, the holy Jerusalem, i.e., the Church uses the very language of Isa 60 at the beginning of chapter 21. Too, Matt 8 presents a clear teaching deriving from it when Jesus speaks to the crowds concerning the centurion:

Matthew 8:10-12  When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.  11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,  12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.”

Acts and Paul interpret the Isaiah texts to mean that God’s plan of salvation extends to the Gentiles. They too may be baptized and be incorporated in the Church where they will dine with the Lord and the patriarchs. So, using Isa 25:6-10 to argue for CWOB looks to me like a non-starter.

In short, Scotist, you still have quite a bit of work to do to make a compelling case. The biggest is to create a credible connection between reception of the Eucharist and salvation which you assume and elide but never demonstrate. As you formulate such an argument, please remember to keep in mind a special group: those people who the Church has always recognized as partakers of the Church and of the Church’s salvation who never received the Church’s baptism—the martyred catechumens. The Church teaches that while they never received the Church’s rites, nevertheless they still died as Christians through the Baptism of Blood—and they never received the Eucharist, thus making it harder to argue that the Eucharist, rather than Baptism, is the sacrament of salvation…

9 Replies to “The Scotist, CWOB, and the Eschaton”

  1. I wonder if something along the lines of the antidoron is the answer to the hospitality objection. IRC, the Sarum Missal actually provides a form for blessing bread that’s not being used for Mass. A place to start, at least.

  2. The antidoron has been mentioned before in connection with this debate. I don’t know whether it offers hospitality or confusion, particularly since it hasn’t been a Western practice for over a thousand years.

  3. Part of the issue of talking about hospitality is that it is terribly subjective, as the antidoron itself illustrates. When I am a visitor to an Orthodox church, the antidoron is as much a substitute for true communion as a blessing is. Also, to be picky about it, the practice of giving it to “unbelievers” (meaning us) is not everywhere practiced and indeed could be considered something of an abuse.

  4. That’s why I prefer a straight blessing—less confusion. If anything, the antidoron is a specific indicator that you’re getting the next best thing…

  5. Getting back to the arguments, I have to say that I too fail to see the logic. Part of the problem is that as soon as you say “God is omnipotent” you are obligated to answer all questions of the form “Can God do” with “yes”. Since God is omnipotent, it is possible for him to save anyone without any assistance and against any interference from us. Therefore we cannot stop God from saving someone by denying them communion, whether they are baptized or not. The only way out of that is by picking up the tail end of Matthew/John and argue for delegation of salvation to the church, but the issue there is that communion is not the only sacrament, and that baptism is plainly stated in Matthew to be the primary sacrament! The more pressing hospitality is therefore inviting guests to be baptized, and if they refuse, then exactly what is the point of communion? Baptism is inclusion, and communion is also to some degree inclusion, and if they refuse the fundamental inclusion, where does that leave them?

  6. Precisely—further there must be a separation between what God *can* do, what God *will* do, and what aspects of his power God lays aside out of deference for human freedom. Scripture says quite clearly that God *wills* the salvation of all people. What seems manifest, though, is that God does not *compel* the salvation of all—at least not on this side of the veil. And arguing what God shall do on the other side is ground where I fear to tread.

    Thus, because God both can do something and desires the same does not necessarily mean that God will enact the same without a human response. (Of course, the degree to which humanity must be aided by the Spirit in order to make that turn-towards in the first place makes the matter yet more complicated…)

  7. Lee,

    I would suggest that this is a niggling difference between a Lutheran and an Anglican Christology, one that the likes of F.D. Maurice and Michael Ramsey built upon from Luther’s own incarnational bent. Our Christology tends to not want to divorce Christ’s social Body from his personal Body, in the way of St. Augustine’s Sermon 272: “Receive what you are, be what you receive.” In other words, Christ goes out of himself for us, is kenotic, and the Church is sign of Christ’s promise of pleroma. This Consummation bent and our living in the mood of hope, the subjunctive, as if, marks a full Anglican Christology and is already strongly present in Cranmer’s own Reformed bent.

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