27 July 2010

Considering Radner: Is the Church a "Chaste Whore?"

Considering Radner: Is the Church a "Chaste Whore?": "
Ecclesiologists and theologians who follow Radner would be prone to echo this term as a preferred mode of reference for the Church, with regard to the simultaneou reality of her total holiness even while her members persist in human sins. This fact is of course an important theologial problem, although the Catholic Church does not view it as a paradox; rather, as Pope John Paul II puts it in a decree for the Jubilee of 2000, 'the Church, strong in the holiness which she receives from her Lord, should kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters.' (John Paul II, First Sunday of Lent 'Day of Pardon,' 2000).) The Church's definitive summary here bears witness to her identity as the creature which subsists unceasingly in her Lord alone, such that en toto she always enjoys, participates in, and extends His holiness without hinderance; and while her sons and daughters do commit sin, she exercises the authority that is hers in her very essence as 'bone of (Christ's) bone and flesh of His flesh' by interceding for them, representing them to their Judge to ask for pardon, and extending His remission of their guilt and punishment. In other words, sinners are within her; but she, by God's grace, stands over and above them in His own perfect righteousness.

However thorough the Protestant attempt to construe the holiness+sinfulness problem, the Protestant's persistent denial of the Church's authority and essential holiness before her Lord requires recourse to the paradox of two contradictory states with regards to the Church as a whole, such that she would be said to be, as Luther said of the individual baptized, 'simul justus et peccator,' at once justified and sinful- or, as Radner finds helpful, she might be said to be 'a chaste whore.'

Given the great reverence with which the Christian tradition has always treated the figure of the whole Church, regardless of the sins of her members, 'the chaste whore' reference needs to be qualified much more carefully, particularly since Hans Urs Von Balthasar, as the only contemporary Catholic theologian to utilize the term, refers strongly to its contradictory meaning as being “blasphemous” on its face in his work Sponsa Verbi, 'Bride of the Word.' (There is some suggestion that Hugo Rahner may have made reference to this term as well, but I've not yet found it if that is the case)

There are in fact two Patristic allusions to the Church as a casta meretrix, 'chaste whore,' but these references do not relate to the problem of the simultaneous 'sinfulness' and holiness of the Church. Both St. Augustine and St. Ambrose (In Lucam VIII) use the casta meretrix term with reference to the repentant Rahab, in order to illustrate the Gentile’s former status as idolaters, who have become a chaste body (and a whore no longer) in their reception of the sacraments, such that they have emerged from 'whoredom' into espousal with their Savior, and as such, they constitute His Body in the world as His chaste bride, just as the Gentile Rahab, who significantly provided her house as a place of refuge and protection for God's people was incorporated into Israel in her repentance. Apparently, it was in this regard of Gentiles' transition in time- from 'whores' prior to baptism and conversion, to saints afterwards- that Rahab was cast as a type of the Church by Justin, Clement, Cyprian, Irenaeus, and Origen. By the 9th century, Rabanus Maurus clarifies that “we are not saying that the Church remained a prostitute, but simply that she used to be.'

Taken in this way, it seems that these references do not directly pertain to the problem of the fomes of sin which remain in the Church’s structures and baptized members- and in light of Catholic theology’s post- Vatican II references to the Church as the present spouse of Christ, the “whore” language construed as a general reference seems... dialogically 'unhelpful.'

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