Tuesday, June 12, 2007

On Open Communion

[Step 1] Suppose that the Last Supper, and the ongoing practice of Eucharistic communion, looks forward to the union between Christ and all the saved at the end of all things, and through it, the union of all the saved with the Father at the end of all things. Who should have a place at the table with Christ here below? All and only those who will be there with Christ at the end of all things. Surely others might be there here below, as Judas shared the Last Supper with Christ, but they ought not to be there; there is something incongruous in their presence.

[Step 2] Should it indeed come to pass that all people are saved, then all people here below have a place at the table with Christ. Yes, they may have a place to be taken only in good order, but that "only" in the preceding clause has no ultimate significance. It is, at best, only conditional--and the "only" used in this very sentence does, in fact, have ultimate significance. From the point of view of eternity, all would be God's children, all predestined to salvation--even now.

So should one ban a known mass murderer--surely a notorious sinner--from communion? Yes, in certain conditions, but not necessarily in all. Yes, if he has not repented; but then, what if you are a pastor on death row, and the mass murdering criminal faces execution the next day? The "no" enabling the smooth functioning of parishes in middle-class districts might reasonably give way in certain circumstances. After all, the "no" is a tactic at best, meant to aid a larger effort which alone gives communion any meaning it may in fact have. And there are genuine tears shed, from time to time, at communion.

[Step 3] But in fact do we know universalism--say, the doctrine that all are saved at the end of all things--is true? I do not think so. Nevertheless, Scripture leaves room for us to hope that all might be saved. That such a hope is intelligible and permissible--let alone obligatory--requires the possibility of universalism. It is not like a hope that there be square circles or a hope that God might after all not exist.

So we may claim to know that universalism is possible, which is in the end to say whatever actually occurs, God could have brought about the salvation of all. It is within his absolute power, even if not within his ordained power. Since universalism is possible, it is permissible to hope for its truth.

[Step 4] If such a hope is permitted, it is obligatory: there is no permissible alternative, and hope is obligatory inasmuch as to love our neighbors we must hope the good for them. For the Church to actually hope that none are saved, or only some and not others is repugnant to Christian morality.

[Step 5] Thus, to deny that universalism is possible is to deny the existence of a God who could save all. More: it is to say that such a God is impossible. However, the ancient faith of Christianity recognizes only a God Omnipotent--in effect, one who could in his absolute power have saved all.

[Step 6] The Church--obliged to hope for what may never come to pass, sc. the salvation of all--is obliged to open communion. It must here below live into its hope that all shall be saved. To hold that the Church is permitted to deny open communion is to hold either that the church is permitted to prescind from living into its hope here below, or that it is not obliged to hope that all be saved, or that God is just not powerful enough to save all, or.... That is, one is committed--so far as I can tell--to at least one of a number of tenets antithetical to the substance of the faith.


At 6:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, jolly good, you tackle something about which I've been thinking, in much the same terms.

The question I have is: what about those who think they don't want to be "saved"? Not only could that be a bit of a turnaround, some might say they don't want to be a part of the Christian tradition. Under universalism, does God therefore have to *impose* salvation on all against their wishes?

At 9:03 AM, Blogger bls said...

I think Tim makes a good point. "It's better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven," after all.

People's autonomy in this respect should be, well, respected. God does not force anyone to love Him.

At 9:58 PM, Blogger Marshall Scott said...

Perhaps, Tim; but, then, they will self-select away from the table. We will not have excluded them.

As to your second question, does God have to "impose" salvation: certainly, with the Scotist we would not want to deny that it is within God's capacity. At the same time, imposition is not required. Christ reminded the Saducees that God is God of "both the living and the dead," including but not limited to the Patriarchs. The dead continue to be present to God in some sense, and God to them, even if the specifics of that are beyond our knowledge. God, then, has the opportunity for persuasion; and with infinite capacity for love, surely God's persuasiveness is infinite, as well as God's patience in persuasion. If God is infinitely persuasive, God does not have to be infinitely imposing to accomplish the same end. As a CPE Supervisor once told me, "Power is the ability to persuade. Love is the most persuasive approach of all."

At 10:59 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

It might well be--who can say?--that were any one of us to come face to face with God, we would find God absolutely irresitible. It's not that God would take any special action to seduce or overwhelm--God would just be God. Given what we are, we would find God the ultimate object of desire.

That might not count as an imposition from outside because it fits so well with what is inside already: with our deepest, innermost nature.

Perhaps then at the eschaton a non-Christian would recognize that the Christian God was after all what he or she had been seeking all along, and not see mere logical discontinuity based on his or her faulty, merely human conceptual understanding as a bar to deeper, ultimate personal commitment.

At 11:03 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

One might see it as Marshall does: God as capable of a persuasion so complete that whatever one had desired--even if sinful--the good sought will eventually be seen and felt through to the bones as summed up better in the divine Trinity that in any mere idol.

At 11:24 AM, Blogger Marshall Montgomery said...

Another Marshall here with a few scattered thoughts:

First, I do not quite see the necessary connection between eschatological salvation and admission to the Eucharistic table. Please clarify.

Second, your reasoning here, Scotist, as well as the comments you recently left on my blog (thank you for them, by the way--great food for thought) both reminded me of what Gregory of Nyssa wrote about Pharaoh (if I recall correctly), that Pharaoh's heart was hardened by God and that he was drowned in the Red Sea by God, but only so that Pharaoh's heart might be softened and Pharaoh's soul be saved in the life to come.

Third, you do not define "open"--is that communion of all human beings or of the baptized? I am reading Nicholas M. Healy's Church, World and the Christian Life: Practical-Prophetic Ecclesiology, wherein Healy discusses both pluralist and inclusivist ecclesiologies and their limitations. His discussion of Rahner might be informative in your own thinking on this matter.

Have you checked out my most recent ramblings on Radner?




At 2:37 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

We clearly need clones somehow telepathically connected to keep up on all the goings on of the internet and world at large.

I have just begun--I am ashamed to say, since I should have long ago--to read Rahner carefully, from a book called The Rahner Reader. And he is impressive, but I haven't read up to that topic yet.

That is a very nice citation of Nyssa--from his Life of Moses maybe? Here is the idea about the Eucharist; I think Gregory of Nyssa would approve. The Eucharist continues the real presence of Christ, God dwelling with us, begun with the Incarnation centuries ago. As such, in it we enter into the presence of the Kingdom here below already--but that presence is not whole and entire. For it is not complete. At the eschaton it will be complete--all the places to be filled will be filled.

Christ in bread and wine now is a foretaste of what is to come, but what is to come is continuous with, and a consummation of, what is already for the Church. All of the Eucharists between now and then are moments of one feast.

Here below we have entered into a Hall half-full or less--not all the guests have arrived. While we wait, or perhaps go back out to help those who are coming to make their way to the Hall, our host serves us.

That's putting the point in a narrative way: we cannot after all view Christ's banquet from the point of view of eternity. But that is the staindpoint of truth, of the God's eye view.

At 7:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks to all for the comments.

I'd like to explain my angle of incidence, a little. I was approaching this from the point of view of attracting an atheist to become one of our number instead. I've encountered several, all of whom are aware of Pascal's Wager but who also see that wager itself as a bad idea too. Notably the outcome of the wager in a non-Universalist system is that the atheist is condemned for eternity; however, if I were to say to one that "it's ok, here be universalism" then I would expect a response "oh, so I don't get a choice not to hang out with this God of yours, what about free will?".

So I like Marshall's idea of God having infinite Love to persuade, maybe even after physical death. And certainly the approach "we will not have excluded them" is reassuring.

At 12:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Musings about what God might or might not want are usually fruitless, and it strikes me that this post and the comments here in are just that - musings on what God might want. The only way that we can know what God wants of us here and now (vis-a-vis communion or anything else) is for him to tell us. Anything else is at best speculation, at worst projection (however well intentioned).

In 1 Corinthians 11, we read:

"Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgement against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world."

Thus spoke the Holy Spirit through the mouth of the Apostle Paul. If we truly hope for the salvation of all (and I certainly do), than to knowingly permit our neighbor to do something that would incur judgment (with a negative connotation) upon him/her would be an offence against Christian love and that very hope that many of us share for the salvation as all. For that reason, there can be no open communion. The best thing that we can do for those who do not discern the body is to offer formation in the Christian life, so that when they are properly incorporated into the Body of Christ (the Church), they can partake of the Body of Christ (the Sacrament) without doing so to their own detriment. That is how our practice may be brought into line with our hope for the salvation as all, and the surest means of effecting it.

At 1:40 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

There is no alternative to musing about what God might want--though you are right to think it is usually fruitless. The fact we may nearly always be arong is consistent with our being obliged to muse. That is just to say we should proceed with humility, not that we should never proceed.

For instance, I Cor. 11 is ambiguous. Judging oneself to be unworthy requires having an antecedent moral standard with which to examine conscience. Exactly what standard is employed by adult Christians, children, and the mentally disabled will vary--and tehre may be variations over time even for single persons.

Regardless, nothing prevents the unbaptized from judging their worthiness--it may be they have a standard relevantly similar to the Christian one. Or it may be that they are operating under the influence of Prevenient Grace.

Either way, they might well satisfy I Cor. 11.

At 1:45 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

To your argument for closed commujnion:

One and the same Holy Spirit speaks through Paul and operates in the unbaptized with prevenient grace. There can therefore be no contradiction--I Cor 11, whatever it says, has to be consistent with the operation of prevenient grace, period.

Nothing in the text speaks of only the baptized being able to examine themselves. Nor could the text say that, as it seems to imply conversion of the unbaptized is impossible, which would be absurd.

You seem to making the Holy Spirit speak merely what you want it to speak, namely what is not there in the text at all.

At 11:41 PM, Blogger Greg Jones said...

Taking part in the mystical Body of Christ is actually achieved through Baptism. Any who seek to become a part of the mystical body of all faithful people in Christ are really seeking Baptism. Eucharist is the gathering of that communion. The speculative rationale offered here regarding ultimate things is valuable stuff -- but also rather ahead of the point.

At 4:47 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Father Jones,
Your reply partakes--so far as I can see--of a certain ambiguity, as if being a part of the Mystical Body and its gathering in Communion were only occurrent, matters of the here-below.

As you would agree, I suspect, neither baptism nor the Eucharist are intelligible apart from teh Eschaton--and anyone familiar with the Body of Christ language you employ and Ephesians would have to say that language about Christ's mystical body refers necessarily to the end of all things.

If we permit ourselves to lift our eyes and hands to heaven and look up to the eschaton, we shall see that we really ought to open communion.


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