Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, Dr. Gary A. Anderson, has written a wonderful and timely article over at Church Life Journal entitled “The Roman Church as Casta Meretrix“. Taking from Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s essay “Casta Meretrix”, which means Chaste Whore, Dr. Anderson points out that the infestation of sin and wickedness in the Church far precedes not only Martin Luther during the 15th-century, but also the early Patristic era of the Church so far back as the Holy Scriptures in its Old Testament history. One need only to study the characters of those who are included in the physical Patriarchate of the Lord Jesus Christ, such as the the Kings of Israel beginning with David unto the Babylonian Captivity. Dr. Anderson carefully shows that God’s plan for redemptive history often involves using the instrumentality of wicked men, a clear sign that God is not acting to save the world according to her merits. In fact, it is rather the divine oaths given to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David that sustains Israel as the bearer of divine revelation and the true oracles of God Most High. One citation used in the article comes from New Testament scholar Dr. Raymond Brown, who makes the following observation when studying the wicked Kings which lie in the geneology of the Lord Jesus:
“The genealogy has taught us that God did not hesitate to entrust to a monarchical institution an essential role in the story of His Son’s origins—an authoritative institution (at times authoritarian) which He guaranteed with promises lest it fail but which was frequently led by corrupt, venal, stupid, and ineffective leaders, as well as sometimes by saints. He has not hesitated to entrust the sequence or the story of hierarchically structured church, guaranteed with promises, but not free from its own share of the corrupt, the venal, the stupid, and the ineffective. Those “Christians” who proclaim that they believe in and love Jesus but cannot accept the church or the institution because it is far from perfect and sometimes a scandal have not understood the beginning of the story and consequently are not willing to face the challenge of the sequence.”
Though he does not explicate this, it is very clear how this could be applied to the Church, who is the New Israel and the New Jerusalem, since she can often be entangled in the catastrophes of wicked and immoral Pontiffs, but nevertheless retains the enduring and invincible subject which carries the divine oracles of God Most High unto the nations, as Israel was divinely purposed to do (Gen 12).
Dr. Anderson wisely concludes that, despite this, this does not mean the faithful should silently tolerate wickedness and sin in the Church, even from prelates who occupy high office. This would be the wrong lesson to have learned from the Donatist schism. Rather, just like in the days of Old Testament history, God raised up fire-breathing prophets of doom to pronounce judgment, wrath, fury, and the indignation of God upon the wicked, so also today we need brave souls who will rise up and continue that sacred role of purification to the one true Church. This is a great point, since many in the Evangelical and Protestant camps have taken on another form of Donatism, and have professed only a pure Church. Some of these will point to how the Old Testament prophecies concerning the re-constitution of Israel would include a Spiritual renewal which causes all of the citizens of Israel to walk in the Law of God. The holy prophet Jeremiah says just as much in his promise of what the life conditions will be in the New Covenant (Jeremiah 30-31). However, we also know from the New Testament that the Kingdom of Israel came to be restored in a mysterious “already/not-yet” sort of dynamic. The New Davidic Ruler certainly came, though slain on a cross, and is certainly enthroned, though in Heaven. The regathering of Israel into one, along with the Gentiles, is now being done as described in the mystery of the parables of our Lord. That the Church on earth in its militant phase would include unworthy sin and corruption is clear from our Lord’s own very command to discipline sinning members (Matthew 18). If New Covenant membership entailed absolute sinlessness, as we expect in the fully realized New Jerusalem (Rev 20-22), then no procedure on how to deal with the impenitent would be given. Moreover, one can see from the epistolary of St. Paul that the Churches he either planted, or helped grow, that the Churches are still a mix congregation of righteous and wicked. In fact, St. Paul even said times were going to get worse, and a certain “falling away” would occur, particularly before the end, as our Lord Himself prophesied. Our job in times like this is to remain faithful to the truth, as any of the holy Prophets of Israel did during the Exilic phases, and to realize that the oaths and promises of God are not upheld by the works of men, nor are they thwarted by the injustices of men, but are upheld by divine, invincible, and irrevocable grace.