03/13/14

FOOD FOR THOUGHT DURING LENT

As we enter Lent, it is helpful first to clarify what is the meaning of what we do. It is evident that the purpose of Lent is not to be found in what we eat and do not eat. In the revelation called «The Shepherd» from the middle of the second century fasting is characterised in military terminology as «station», i.e. being on guard duty.

Thus fasting is understood as spiritual discipline through which we open ourselves to God’s grace. The Shepherd tells the seer: «God does not wish a vain fast … But fast to God in this way: Do nothing evil in your life, but serve the Lord with a pure heart, keep his commandments and walk in his ordinances …»

In other words, Lent is a voyage of self-discovery, a spiritual discipline in which we learn to open ourselves to Christ’s presence in our lives.

02/13/14

KIRKE OG MENIGHET

Peter og Paulus - reduced size

At a conference in Oslo last month between the Nordic Catholic Church and traditional Lutherans on Ecclesiology and Ministry I gave a lecture on conciliar ecclesiology. A resumé of the main points follows below, as published today under the title Kirke og menighet (Church and Parish) in my monthly column in DAGEN, a Christian newspaper in Norway.

Kirke og menighet

Når vi bruker ord som «kirke» eller «menighet» om de kristnes sosiale liv, må vi ta i betraktning at ingen av ordene er opprinnelige bibelske begreper, men betegnelser som i tidens løp er vokst frem for å oversette ett og samme ord – det paulinske begrep «ekklesia». Den ordgranne oversettelse ville i begge tilfelle være «forsamling».

I Det nye testamente forekommer ordet «ekklesia» særlig i det paulinske forfatterskap og i miljøer forbundet med apostelen. Paulus har hentet ordet fra den greske oversettelse av Det gamle testamente hvor «ekklesia» i betydningen «folkeforsamling» anvendes for å gjengi det hebraiske uttrykk «qahal» som betegner Israel som Guds eiendomsfolk (2 Mos 19:6, 5 Mos 7:6; jfr Heb 12:23). For å forstå den nytestamentlige ordbruken er det viktig å merke seg at apostelen anvender begrepet i tilsynelatende ulike sammenhenger. «Guds ekklesia» brukes om den enkelte menighet som adressat for hans brev (1 Kor 1:2). Samtidig finner vi «ekklesia» brukt også om hele kirken i betydningen «samtlige menigheter» (1Tess 2:14, Gal 1:13, 1 Kor 15:9). Likeledes karakteriserer Paulus de kristne med uttrykket ”Guds ekklesia” som den tredje menneskehet ved siden av jøder og grekere (1 Kor 10:32). Videre brukes ordet «ekklesia» også i betydningen «den gudstjenestefeirende forsamling» (1 Kor 11:18, 1 Tim 3:15) og om endetidens gudsfolk (Ap gj 9:31, 20:28).

Meningsfylden i ordet «ekklesia» utviskes imidlertid i våre bibeloversettelser som gjengir «forsamling» snart som «kirke», snart som «menighet». En slik differensiering letter nok lesningen, men gir også rom for alvorlige misforståelser. En saksvarende oversettelse av «ekklesia» ville være at man – avhengig av kontekst – istedenfor skjelnet mellom «storkirke» og «lokalkirke».

Det problematiske ved bruken av ordet «menighet» er at ordet strengt tatt kun betyr «fellesskap» uten at det angies hva som binder felleskapene sammen. Derved kan man komme til å tilsløre hva det vil si å være kirke i verden. Begrepet «menighet” kan lede til at man forstår helheten – «kirken» – som sammenslutningen av de ulike menighets-fellesskapene.

Derved står man overfor problemet om hvordan man skal tenke seg menighetenes innbyrdes forhold. Den enkleste løsning er en form for kongregasjonalisme, idet selvstendige menigheter samvirker når og hvor det måtte være ønskelig. En annen løsning er å forstå lokalmenigheten som en slags underavdeling i forhold til en sentralinstans på lignende måte som filialene i DnB forholder seg til hovedkontoret i Oslo. Kirkens enhet fremkommer da som summen av de ulike virksomhetsområdene slik de er forenet gjennom organisasjonens regelverk.

Dette er ikke den paulinske forståelse av kirkelivet. Apostelens bruk av nettopp det samme ord «ekklesia» både på storkirken og lokalkirken gjør det urimelig å definere «menigheten» som en slags underavdeling av «kirken». Fellesbetegnelsen innebærer at storkirken utgjør en enhet som gir seg uttrykk på ulike steder i form av mange lokalkirker som alle er bærere av den samme åndelige fylde. Derved er «den verdensvide kirke» tilstede i alle delkirkene i kraft av at alle lokalkirkene har den samme identitet som storkirken. Det er altså ikke summen av delene som skaper enheten, men helheten kommer til uttrykk ved at hver del for seg og tilsammen er Guds ekklesia – den nye pakts eiendomsfolk.

02/3/14

STANDING TOGETHER

Canon Kevin Donlon, Bishop Roald Nikolai and Canon Geoffrey Neal

At a conference at the end of January 2014 in Oslo between the Nordic Catholic Church and traditional Lutherans from Norway and Sweden were distinguished guests from England’s Anglican Association, Canon Geoffrey Neal, and The Anglican Mission in America (AMiA), Canon Kevin Donlon. The meeting also gave occasion to further the realignment between Anglo-Catholics, Nordic Catholic Church and Mission Province.

The high point for our visitors came when they were able to attend the Feast of the Presentation in the Church of St. Michael and All Saints in Fredrikstad (see photo: Kevin Donlon, left, and Geoffrey Neal, right). Addressing the parishioners at the church coffee they conveyed greetings from their respective organisations and underlined the importance for Christians to come together in these difficult times.

01/18/14

ECUMENICAL CONVERSATIONS

The Nordic Catholic Church has strong bonds with Anglicans. However, the liberalising innovations in the Church of England have complicated our ecumenical relations with them and at the same time made many Anglicans who cherish the Catholic heritage look for a new home.

In response, the Nordic Catholic Church has, together with our Mother Church, the Polish National Catholic Church, explored ways which could provide a new realignment for non-Roman Catholics, using the Union of Scranton as a means of achieving this. In this endeavour, we were encouraged by our affinity with the Free Church of England and conversations were initiated during 2012.

These talks have proved to be constructive and the following statement has been issued:
Official Statement from the International Catholic Bishops Conference of the Union of Scranton On September 15, 2012 the International Catholic Bishops Conference (ICBC) of the Union of Scranton made the following motion:

The ICBC authorizes Bishop Flemestad to begin a dialogue with the Free Church of England on behalf of the Union of Scranton based upon the ‘Requirements for Communion with the Polish National Catholic Church’ (October, 2010) with the eventual goal of membership in the Union of Scranton.

Since then Bishop Flemestad has met on several occasions with representatives of the Free Church of England. At a meeting in Scranton, Pennsylvania on 11-12 February, 2013, Bishops of the Polish National Catholic Church, the Nordic Catholic Church and the Free Church of England met and had a very fruitful discussion during which documentation was presented and discussed. In light of this meeting the International Catholic Bishops Conference anticipates being able to work with the Free Church of England to build up a Catholic jurisdiction in the United Kingdom.”

The next stage is for the conversations to be reported to the International Catholic Bishops Conference in April and to Convocation of The free Church of England at its meeting in May.

01/18/14

A SHORT PRESENTATION OF THE NORDIC CATHOLIC CHURCH

The Nordic Catholic Church was established in Norway in 2000 under the auspices of the Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC). Today the Nordic Catholic Church is led by Bishop Roald Nikolai Flemestad as a member Church of the Union of Scranton.

The following is taken from the preamble of the Statutes of the Union of Scranton:

The Union of Scranton is a union of Churches – and their bishops governing them – that is determined to maintain and pass on the Catholic faith, worship, and essential structure of the Undivided Church of the first millennium. The Union of Scranton finds its origins in the development of the Union of Utrecht established on September 24, 1889, in Utrecht, Holland (…) the full communion of the Churches found its expression and was evident in the bishops uniting to form a Bishops’ Conference, which other bishops later joined. Since the Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC) continues to hold the Declaration of Utrecht as a normative document of faith, the development of the Union of Scranton follows a similar design.

The Union of Scranton emerged because certain member Churches of the Union of Utrecht unilaterally began to ordain women to the Priesthood and to bless same-sex unions in opposition to Holy Scripture and the Sacred Tradition of the Undivided Church. Since November 20, 2003 the PNCC is neither in communion, nor affiliated with the Churches of the Union of Utrecht.

Within the context of the Union of Scranton the Nordic Catholic Church has its orders and has received apostolic succession from the PNCC. Additionally, the theology reflects the doctrinal dialogue between the Chalcedonian Orthodox patriarchates and the Old Catholic churches as agreed in the consensus document Road to Unity from 1987. Thus, like the PNCC, the Nordic Catholic Church adheres to the teachings and praxis of the undivided Church.

Furthermore, the Nordic Catholic Church emphasises in its Statement of Faith that it adheres to its Scandinavian Lutheran heritage to the extent that it has embraced and transmitted the orthodox and catholic faith of the undivided church.

The Nordic Catholic Church has presently five parishes in Norway, one in Sweden and developing communities in both countries. The activities outside Scandinavia take place in cooperation with the PNCC within the framework of the Union of Scranton.

01/18/14

WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THE WORD “CATHOLIC”?

Colloquial use gives the impression that the adjective “catholic” designates the Roman Catholic Church as opposed to other church bodies such as the Orthodox or the Lutherans. In the perspective of history, though, using this term to refer to particular denominations is actually a relatively new practice. Moreover, the Orthodox and Old Catholic Churches have never forgone the right to call themselves catholic. Not until the late the seventeenth century did people in the lands of the Augsburg Confession begin to use the words “Lutheran” and “Catholic” as mutually contradictory terms. Till then Lutherans had quite consistently referred to themselves as catholic. Their unwillingness to use the term “Lutheran” about themselves other than in a colloquial sense shows how reluctant they were to appear as somehow sectarian adherents of Martin Luther.

Their concern was, on the contrary, to retain the faith of the Catholic Church. Luther himself maintained that his faith was catholic, and that he confessed the credal article of faith concerning the “Catholic” Church  (WA 8. 96). Melanchton likewise emphasized that “we must all be catholic” (CR 24.399). In the Augsburg Confession of 1530 we also read that the doctrine of the Reformation “does not deviate from that of the Catholic Church (ecclesia catholica) in any article of faith, but only renounces a few misuses, that are new and have erroneously been included against the intention of church law”. When discussing papal innovations, Reformation theologians claimed to hold a doctrinal standpoint that “neither deviates from Holy Scripture nor the Universal Church nor the Roman Church as we know it from the Fathers”. (CA XXI:1)

This understanding of catholicity hails from the definition given by the Church Father Vincent of Lerins: “Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold THAT WHICH HAS BEEN BELIEVED EVERYWHERE, ALWAYS, AND BY ALL—quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est.” (Henry Bettenson, Documents of the Christian Church, 2nd edition, p. 84). This definition is based on the assertion that there exists a common tradition of East and West that is binding for the spiritual life of the Church. The term “catholic” (first used by St Ignatius of Antioch in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans, written between AD 107 and 115) is derived from the Greek word combination kata (according to) + holos (complete). The word thus denotes “what is in accordance with the fulness of faith and order”. Thus “catholic” refers, first of all, to the inner wholeness and integrity of the Church’s life.

The point is therefore not that the Church shall be “universally present” in terms of space, but “complete” in all spiritual respects. In this way the word describes an ideal situation—“what is as it should be”. Consequently, the term “catholic” does not designate a particular denomination, but specificies a quality that should mark all church bodies. In order for it to be called “catholic”, the spiritual life  of a church or ecclesial community must be in accordance with the fulness of faith and order. In the same way as the other qualifying marks of the church—“one”, “holy” and “apostolic—the attribute “catholic” expresses an aspect of the life of the church that cannot be relinquished and politely handed over to become a monopoly of Rome. Everywhere spiritual life, that is, ecclesial life in Christ, must appear as it should be. The real opposite of catholicity, then, is self-chosen, arbitrary religiosity. In the end, every one of us must make the fundamental choice whether I want to be truly catholic or declare myself to be my own supreme spiritual authority.

In this perspective, not only individuals but also churches and religious communities must likewise place themselves under the norm of catholicity and self-critically ask how they transmit the faith in any given situation.

 

Bishop Roald Nikolai

(translated from Norwegian)