Truth is a person. Truth has a story, brothers and sisters. Truth has a mother and father.
As I continue to meditate on the concerns of my friends who are grappling with issues related to what the Church is called to be and their place in it, more and more, the concerns I have boil down to a fundamental aversion to abstraction and rationalism.
If Truth is a person, a man with 32 teeth and a score of fingers and toes, a man with a story, history, context, this means that it is not enough to merely ask factual questions. It’s all well and good to ask questions about “apostolic succession,” “veneration of icons,” “episcopal polity,” the role of “tradition,” the “authority of the church,” and a whole host of other issues, but all of these are abstract ideas which have not yet touched down. Those factual questions are only half of the work, half of the question. And furthermore, no one comes to those ideas with clean slates; you cannot come to these questions with an ecclesiological tabula rasa. You were born into a story, a family, a tradition, and all of these questions have their own stories and complexities. In other words, to take one example, there is no such thing as “apostolic succession” in general. There are only particular bishops who consecrate particular bishops in a particular sequence, and we may generalize concerning this activity over time using various terms as short hand for historical events, but we’re talking about a story with main characters, minor characters, heroes and villains, a plot, a climax, and various levels of resolution.
And this is not an apologetic for a relativistic version of truth. On the contrary, it is to argue for the most absolute form of truth that can or does exist, truth that is so absolute it resides in a single person, the Word of God Incarnate, Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee. And because you were made in his image, you also have a story, a context, a history, pastors, parents, friends, and neighbors. It is not enough to merely ask if something is a fact or exists or is *true*, floating up there in the cerebral ether. The next step must be made in understanding how it is true, how it has been applied, understood, abused, and so on.
To refuse to ask the how question is just straight up rationalism. The rationalist can only see the world in black and white. The rationalist can only see the world through open and shut, abstract categories, the world in ones and zeros. Everything is a true or false question on the exam of life. Humanity is a brain which operates according to simplistic logical categories. Of course there are certain questions which may always be asked and answered with straight up yes or no results. But – and this is the point – that is always because God has already spoken authoritatively on those points. But life is lived in the messiness of flesh and tears and blood and laughter. Being human means embracing this image of God in our living, in our breathing, in the parents the bore us, in the communities that reared us, in the Church that regenerated us. But this means appreciating the dynamics of the story.
For a Protestant to suddenly look up and say, “The Pope said it, that settles it,” is not only to give multitudes of faithful fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters in the Protestant Church the fig, it is to do the same to history. It is an anti-intellectual fundamentalism of the worst sort. Similarly on the question of icons: Protestants need to realize that the seventh ecumenical council really did happen, and the Church did in fact mandate the use of icons in Christian Worship and we also need to recognize that there were some distinctions being made between veneration and idolatry. True. Yet, it simply will not do to completely ignore the heathen superstitions that have plagued both Orthodoxy and Romanism down through the years. Russian Orthodox shrines with totem poles in them is not a legitimate application of the communion of saints, and for all my love of Eskimos, it will not do for a purse lipped priest to solemnly start explaining the difference between worship and veneration. Calvin’s catalogue of relics would be funny except for the fact that it was true. And the countless sheep led astray by that kind of foolishness as well as the gadfly bishops and archbishops prodding their people on while filling their pockets with filthy lucre is part of the story. Answering the other questions must be done in the context of this story in order to arrive at Truth.