Wednesday 29 August 2012

Protestant and Catholic: Conversion and theosis


One major reason that I regard Protestant and Catholic as complementary rather than in competition relates to their specialisms: conversion versus theosis.

Protestants are, or ought to be, experts in evangelism and mission - in getting people 'saved', and 'across the line' into Christianity.

What then?

Well, there is a period of strengthening the conversion, learning scripture and removing errors: and this may take many years.

So there tends to be a lot of repetition, and a focus on the moment of conversion, being born again.

The aim is perhaps to secure salvation, to make the state of being saved stronger. 


At some point some people begin to want more, or perhaps more accurately want something different (for whatever reason) - and Protestants tend to channel this desire, or this surplus energy, or the need to fill the days with activity into... well, Good Works principally - primarily more evangelism and mission (for which there is always a need) but also into Good Works like health care, social care, education...

The devout Protestant model of church once or twice a week, absent or infrequent (and non-mystical) Holy Communion, perhaps home Bible study groups, and extempore prayer is not well-suited to theosis.

(Protestants tend to be salvation egalitarians, to the point of being reluctant to acknowledge the existence of and gifts of those with exceptional Holiness - for example Saints.)  


But for Catholics, conversion is (or ought to be) the start of a process of sanctification (theosis, moving toward being a Saint in communion with God).

And this is aimed at by things such as frequent Holy Communion, ascetic practices, and frequent formal and ritual activity - ideally that kind of fusion of all aspects of life in pursuit of sanctification which reached its highest in Byzantium.


Theosis  is, in a way, orthogonal to conversion.

Theosis does not (until its highest levels) render salvation stronger - indeed it tends to risk salvation, by tending to encourage spiritual pride (which can overturn almost any state of salvation - so that very advanced ascetics may fall, presumably into damnation, even after many years of endeavour).

Nonetheless, theosis is probably the main thing which Christians should do after conversion is (reasonably) solid.


On this line of argument, Protestants secure salvation and then some Protestants will want to embark on theosis with a Catholic denomination.

But one major problem is that - while there are numerous successful Protestant evangelicals - there is a serious shortage of Catholic denominations orientated towards theosis. Few Roman Catholic churches seem to offer daily mass. Orthodoxy is weak in the West and does not pervade life. The monastic life is weak and rare. There are few living (or zero) models of advanced sanctification.

But in principle, as an ideal, it would be best (at least in a moderately Christian society) to have both strong Protestant and strong Catholic denominations.



JP said...

"Few Roman Catholic churches seem to offer daily mass."

Interesting. Our local RC church has two daily morning masses Monday through Saturday, an additional daily weekday mass during Lent, and six masses on Sunday.

FHL said...

I apologize in advance for speaking such depressing thoughts, but I'm in a very down mood right now. Don't worry, the mood will pass. And I don't mean to burden you with my thoughts; I don't expect any reply to ease my soul and you needn't worry about giving me one. But I must get this off my chest.

Even if the protestants were to take the sacraments, I would still feel queasy.

I feel like I am in the same position as C.S. Lewis was when he wrote in A Grief Observed (paraphrased, perhaps incorrectly, from my memory): “I was not so much in danger of ceasing to believe in God, I was in danger of believing who God was.”

I fear many things, such as my future, my job prospects, what people think of me, whether I will have enough money or health, what will happen to the West in incoming days, and so forth... but my greatest fear is that God may not be who I think He is. That God simply just doesn't get it. That He simply does not understand what we are and what we are like. Lord have mercy on me for saying so, I am certain it is a heresy!

But I often fear (and it not an intellectual fear, not something brought on by philosophy that can be fixed with philosophy- but a deep and ambiguous primal fear felt only in my heart- something I cannot easily get rid of) that maybe God is just far too high above Creation for there to be any understanding between Him and us. Like I will die and I go to Heaven, and I will be miserable. Like I will be told that C.S. Lewis and Peter Kreeft and you are burning in Hell because you all did not attend an Orthodox church. And that I will be told that I must accept this, and that this is good, and that it is I who in my fallen state cannot comprehend goodness, and it is I who is the confused one. And I know I probably sound foolish saying so, I know I am a fool for imagining “what if I find myself in Heaven and everyone else who I considered a good Christian is in Hell?” as if I know I'm destined for Heaven or that I deserve salvation or anything like that, but I wonder: what if I find myself in the position of Lazarus the poor man who looked down upon the rich man pleading to him from the torments of Hell. I could never witness anyone's pain in Hell, and I certainly could not speak to them or give them any lectures, it would be far too much. it would be like a drunk driver blitzed out of his mind pulling his vehicle up to lecture a speeding motorist on why the speeder received a ticket and why it was just that the speeder was the one who got punished while he, the drunk driver who swerved across all the lanes and missed all the stop lights but maintained a legal speed, did not.

I don't know... it's like I think: well if they would let me into Heaven, well then, they must let all Christians in, shouldn't they? Or will they just say: “You were spared by God by His whim and secret knowledge which you do not possess, it was a just and good move, don't be ungrateful and don't complain. Be happy. That is a command.”

I cannot feel joy on command.

I know this is all foolishness, and a sin, but like I said: it's a deep and primal fear. Kind of like my very severe arachnophobia. I can't talk myself out of it, I can't reason myself out of it, and even though I know it is irrational it simply seems to appear out of the blue, seizes me, and takes me hostage.

Bruce Charlton said...

@FHL - we are weak creatures and can be overwhelmed by circumstance, mood, illness - that is why we must have a saviour, or perish. Sometimes there is only seeking, and clinging to the promise that in the end (maybe at the last moment) He who seeks will find. We will get what we want, and the judgment will be contained in what we want.