Constantine as Mr. Rogers

Remember when Presbyterians used to confess this about the civil magistrate?

The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven: yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed; and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God. (Confession of Faith 23.3)

Of course, imagining Donald Trump presiding over the General Assembly of the PCA might prompt chuckles (moderating debate with Roberts’ Rules, winding up the woke commissioners, Trump supporters’ embarrassment). But even giving “good” presidents this kind of power is precisely why American Presbyterians revised the Confession (at least one reason). The Congregationalist, Barack Obama moderating a General Assembly? The United Methodist, George W. Bush? The Roman Catholic, John F. Kennedy? I don’t think so!

But even in a secular United States, Americans have trouble abandoning the idea of a president’s moral authority. Even those who believe in total depravity struggle with expecting too much of POTUS. Here’s one fairly recent foray into the topic of presidents’ morality at National Public Radio. Surprise, it started with St. Abe:

While Americans often take the idea of the president as a moral leader for granted, Barbara Perry, a presidential historian in Charlottesville at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, says she has traced this concept back to Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in 1863.

The North and South were divided in the middle of the Civil War, and Lincoln sought to bring the country together by pointing to our common heritage, Perry says.

“He points to the fact that our common heritage is that our forefathers came upon this continent and created a new nation, dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” Perry tells NPR’s Audie Cornish. “To me it is the ultimate presidential speech of unification, grief, calming — but also uplifting and inspirational.”

What exactly is moral about social unity, grief over soldiers’ deaths, calm reassurance, uplift, and inspiration? That’s a pretty low bar (not low enough for Trump).

“The president is not always successful in the persuasion, in terms of policy outcomes,” Perry says, “but if he can be successful in at least calming and soothing the nation and showing us a way forward — that someday perhaps we will reach the policy point, as we did with President Kennedy and the ’64 Civil Rights Act — he will have been successful.”

So what, ultimately, is the responsibility of a president in critical moments? Perry says the president primarily serves to comfort the American people in times of crisis. We look to the president as a father figure.

“The president is the very first symbol of American government that children comprehend,” she says. “The president, especially in the modern era, comes into our homes — first by radio, then television, now through all sorts of electronic gadgetry — and so we think of him as part of our life. And that’s why it’s so important for him to model the proper behavior for us.”

The only way this makes sense for Christians is to have two standards, one for Christians, another for citizens. The United States relies on conduct that is outwardly moral in some sense. But that is a far cry from the Confession:

Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and others; yet because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith, nor are done in a right manner, according to the Word, nor to a right end, the glory of God; they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God. (Confession of Faith, 13.7)

A president’s moral authority, accordingly, should proceed from true faith, obedience to God’s word, and an aim to give God the glory.

And yet, we have many Americans who expect presidents to be moral at a time when Christians have been “engaged” in politics in a direct way for at least a generation. You might think that a Christian perspective would reduce expectations for a presidential morality. It is exactly the reverse. Many American who have made a living by flouting conventional standards (think Hollywood celebrities) now have no trouble echoing Jerry Falwell, Sr.

If only Mencken were alive to see this show.

Mary, Queen not of the Scots but the Universe?

That at least is the claim by Roman Catholics, who last week celebrated the Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

As was the custom in Israel, Mary was predestined to be the Queen Mother of Jesus. Since Jesus was to be King of all creation, his mother Mary — in dependence on Jesus — was to be his Queen. Since Jesus took his earthly flesh from his mother Mary, it was only fitting that her flesh, too, should have been preserved from the stain of original sin.

Mary was acting in her role of Queen Mother when, at the wedding feast at Cana, she turned to her Son for help — and then when she instructed the steward, “Do whatever He tells you.”

Protestants don’t think so, at least the Scot James Orr took a different view on the wholesomeness of queen mothers in the Old Testament:

It stands to reason that among a people whose rulers are polygamists the mother of the new king or chief at once becomes a person of great consequence. The records of the Books of Kings prove it. The gebhirah, or queen mother, occupied a position of high social and political importance; she took rank almost with the king. When Bath-sheba, the mother of Solomon, desired “to speak unto him for Adonijah,” her son “rose up to meet her, and bowed himself unto her, and sat down on his throne, and caused a throne to be set for the king’s mother; and she sat on his right hand” (1 Ki 2:19). And again, in 2 Ki 24:15, it is expressly stated that Nebuchadnezzar carried away the king’s mother into captivity; Jeremiah calls her gebhirah (29:2). The king was Jehoiachin (Jeconiah, Jer 29:2), and his mother’s name was Nehushta (2 Ki 24:8). This was the royal pair whose impending doom the prophet was told to forecast (Jer 13:18). Here again the queen mother is mentioned with the king, thus emphasizing her exalted position. Now we understand why Asa removed Maacah his (grand?)mother from being queen (queen mother), as we are told in 1 Ki 15:13 (compare 2 Ch 15:16). She had used her powerful influence to further the cause of idolatry. In this connection Athaliah’s coup d’etat may be briefly mentioned. After the violent death of her son Ahaziah (2 Ki 9:27), she usurped the royal power and reigned for some time in her own name (2 Ki 11:3; compare 2 Ch 22:12). This was, of course, a revolutionary undertaking, being a radical departure from the usual traditions.

Not the best model for Mary.

And then we have the perspective of Judaism. In addition to Michal and Bathsheba, perhaps not the best of precedents, we have Ataliah:

The daughter of Ahab and Jezebel (or else of Omri), wife of Jehoram of Judah, and sole reigning queen of Judah. Like her husband, she murdered all familial rivals upon her accession to the throne. Only her grandson Joash escaped her clutches thanks to his aunt Jehosheva (Ataliah’s daughter). Ataliah fostered the idolatrous worship of Baal-Melqart, and her reign was odious to the Judahites. She received condign punishment when her son-in-law, the stalwart high priest Jehoiada, proclaimed her grandson Joash as king in a coronation ceremony in the Temple. The despairing Ataliah tore her clothes and protested the act of treason, then was promptly led off and summarily executed at the horse gate of the royal palace. In the aftermath of Ataliah’s demise, the temple of Baal was destroyed and its priest Mattan slain.

But if you can look at queen mothers in the Old Testament as the institutional model for Mary’s status in the Christian faith, you might have no trouble believing the New York Times about slavery in America.

That’s How Bad Protestantism Is

From the file of why you’d never think of becoming Protestant even when Roman Catholicism has fallen so far. Rusty Reno keeps it real depressing for those not Called to Communion:

The present pontificate has sown confusion, division, and conflict. Francis is advancing a doctrinally suspect revision of the discipline for divorced and remarried Catholics. This affects a vanishingly small percentage of churchgoers. Yet he presses forward against objections, apparently because he wants to empower those who seek a wide-ranging concordat with the sexual revolution. Meanwhile, as he hails the inauguration of a more pastoral and inclusive Church, he spews invective and denounces critics. He seeks to influence the secular politics of capital punishment, immigration, and global warming while ignoring the theological poverty and spiritual corruption of the supernatural body of Christ. In all likelihood, Francis will precipitate a deep and destructive crisis in the Church. That’s been his modus operandi throughout his clerical career, evident during his tenure as Jesuit provincial in Argentina. Again, this is demoralizing.

One friend publicly announced his departure from the Catholic Church. Another friend tells me he won’t go to Mass in a church that protects the likes of McCarrick. Many others wonder how they can persevere as faithful Catholics when it’s increasingly clear that this pope is ­unworthy of their loyalty and respect.

That is not much of a pitch for becoming Roman Catholic.

But it so far superior to Protestantism that Reno would never consider becoming Protestant (even though he was one once upon a time):

Catholicism is the font of nearly all Christian witness in our societies (Eastern Orthodoxy provides some exceptions). Some of that spiritual potency has spun out of the orbit of the Church of Rome, to be sure, but it carries her DNA. As John Henry Newman observed as an Anglican, Catholicism “has ­preoccupied the ground.”

When one is lost, it is wise to retrace one’s steps and return to the starting point and begin again. This is why we need always to return to Christ, who is the Alpha and Omega, and to the apostolic fellowship that stretches from his Resurrection to the present in the continuous life of his bride, the Church. The more disoriented we are, the more we need to return to the original source of our faith, which in the West means drawing closer to the Roman Church. These are difficult times. But for precisely this reason, Catholicism is for me more essential. It is the source of consolation and strength amid our collective failures.

My counsel, therefore, is simple. In this season of corruptions revealed and teachings betrayed, we must not underestimate the sheer fact of the Church: the unceasing prayers of the faithful, the witness of her saints, and the reality of Christ present in the sacrifice of the Mass. The corporate body of Christ sustains us, even amid clerical betrayals, even in the face of our own doubts, mediocrity, and sin.

In this understanding of Christianity, corporate and institutional expressions matter. You need that visible continuity from Peter to Francis to see where Christianity is, to be in fellowship with Christ. When Protestants merely talk about spiritual continuity or spiritual succession, I imagine you get snickers in the editorial offices at First Things.

Except, Rome’s institutional edifice came way way after Jesus. The patriarchate of Jerusalem makes a much better claim to institutional/formal continuity with Christ than Rome (and what of Mormons’ claim that Jesus came to North America and minister here for centuries?). Plus, the Bishop of Rome himself did not begin to consolidate Christianity in the West until the seventh or eighth centuries — hardly the church Jesus founded, unless you want to appeal to the spirit of Christ’s founding.

Wait.

The oddest part of Reno’s lament and apology is what he says implicitly about the evangelical and Protestant writers, readers, and staff of his magazine. Protestants are second-class believers compared to Roman Catholics who have all the rock of Peter bling. At what point do Protestants object to such patronizing dismissal?

Is Americanism a Superstition?

Why are some Roman Catholics so willing to look at the United States as the basement of human flourishing but then turn a blind eye to the variety of cults that surround local saints and their relics? A couple years ago, a battle was raging between two saints — St. Muerte vs. St. Jude Thaddeus — that had broad support among the people (think populism):

The Vatican takes a far less rosy view of the cult, which it sees as a deeply threatening presence in the country with the world’s second-largest Catholic population. In 2013, a senior church official said worshiping Santa Muerte was a “degeneration of religion.” Three Catholic bishops in the United States also denounced the folk saint in February.

Yet despite the church’s stance, Santa Muerte is currently the fastest-growing new religious movement in the Americas, according to Andrew Chesnut, chair in Catholic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and the author of Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint.

“The fact that Santa Muerte is the nonjudgmental folk saint who accepts everybody regardless of their station in life, regardless of their social class and regardless of their skin color is really appealing in a country like Mexico, where the gaps between rich and poor are some of the greatest in the world,” he said.

According to Chesnut, Mexico City’s St. Hippolytus Church responded to the explosive growth of the monthly Santa Muerte rosary service in the capital by organizing a special Mass in honor of St. Jude Thaddeus on the 28th of each month. These monthly celebrations drew impressive crowds and quickly expanded to other parts of the country.

“St. Jude Thaddeus is the only Catholic saint in the world who now basically has a monthly feast day,” Chesnut said.

Typically depicted in a green cloak with a flame above his head and a wooden club in his hand, St. Jude Thaddeus was one of Jesus Christ’s 12 apostles.

Much like Santa Muerte, the canonized saint’s popularity is tied to his reputation as a powerful miracle worker. For centuries, believers were wary of invoking him because of the similarity between his name and that of Judas Iscariot, Christ’s betrayer. Yet according to tradition, the forgotten saint became a powerful intermediary, eager to assist those in need.

“Word has spread that St. Jude can help you with your most pressing problems,” said Guadalajara-based priest Fr. Juan Carlos López. “Because of that, the devotion has grown.”

Yet some church officials have expressed concern about the saint’s popularity with criminals.

“There is a dark, negative side to all of this,” said Fr. José de Jesus Aguilar, director of the radio and television service for the Mexico City Archdiocese. “St. Jude Thaddeus has also become the patron of thieves, drug traffickers and those who are doing evil. This is a contradiction. Saints cannot support those who are doing wrong.”

Obviously, a Protestant isn’t going to help Romans sort this out — way above my pay grade, though I could advise that simply going with the sainthood of all believers would cut down on the hierarchy of Christians (not populist). Also, eliminating the cult of saints rids the church of that difficult decision of distinguishing — get this — good saints from bad ones.

What is curious, though, is how church officials and Roman Catholic intellectuals have no trouble seeing the wickedness of Lockean liberalism, free market capitalism, global warming, and nationalism (in almost all forms). Even more startling is how some of these same people are willing to condemn or question the bona fides of Roman Catholics who defend the benefits of modern political and economic arrangements.

Leo Ribuffo said it best way back in 2004:

In the 19th century James Cardinal Gibbons tried to comfort Protestant America with the notion that the doctrine of papal infallibility was no more mysterious than the Supreme Court serving as the final interpreter of the Constitution. Perhaps so, but the Catholic Supreme Court, so to speak, resides in Rome rather than Washington and thus is less responsive to American opinions. Probably papal misunderstanding of the United States has been no worse than that of most European heads of government. This is not a very high standard, however. On the contrary, the papacy has often seemed to reflect European clichés about American hyperpower, mindless materialism, and a confusion of freedom with license. Certainly the Vatican seems more likely to censure a characteristic American religious syncretism—of Catholicism and democracy—than Third World religious adaptations in which Catholicism merges with voodoo or animism.

Was Calvin’s Return to Geneva in 1541 a Miracle?

How much do Protestants associate the greatest hits of their churches’ history with anything like what Roman Catholics sometimes teach and believe about the House of Loreto. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Since the fifteenth century, and possibly even earlier, the “Holy House” of Loreto has been numbered among the most famous shrines of Italy. Loreto is a small town a few miles south of Ancona and near the sea. … this building is honoured by Christians as the veritable cottage at Nazareth in which the Holy Family lived, and the Word became incarnate. … Angels conveyed this House from Palestine to the town Tersato in Illyria in the year of salvation 1291 in the pontificate of Nicholas IV. Three years later, in the beginning of the pontificate of Boniface VIII, it was carried again by the ministry of angels and placed in a wood near this hill, in the vicinity of Recanati, in the March of Ancona; where having changed its station thrice in the course of a year, at length, by the will of God, it took up its permanent position on this spot [six] hundred years ago. Ever since that time, both the extraordinary nature of the event having called forth the admiring wonder of the neighbouring people and the fame of the miracles wrought in this sanctuary having spread far and wide, this Holy House, whose walls do not rest on any foundation and yet remain solid and uninjured after so many centuries, has been held in reverence by all nations.”

Got that? The house where Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth is now in Italy. No construction company performed the move. No, angels did. They moved the house not once but three — COUNT ‘EM THREE!! — times (or is it four?).

Are these miracles merely the outworking of local traditions and pious cults in southern Italy? No. Popes have approved these stories as true.

More than forty-seven popes have in various ways rendered honour to the shrine, and an immense number of Bulls and Briefs proclaim without qualification the identity of the Santa Casa di Loreto with the Holy House of Nazareth. As lately as 1894 Leo XIII, in a Brief conceding various spiritual favours for the sixth centenary of the translation of the Santa Casa to Loreto, summed up its history in these words: “The happy House of Nazareth is justly regarded and honoured as one of the most sacred monuments of the Christian Faith; and this is made clear by the many diplomas and acts, gifts and privileges accorded by Our predecessors. No sooner was it, as the annals of the Church bear witness, miraculously translated to Italy and exposed to the veneration of the faithful on the hills of Loreto than it drew to itself the fervent devotion and pious aspiration of all, and as the ages rolled on, it maintained this devotion ever ardent.”

Then the Catholic Encyclopedia’s authors go on to list the reasons for the authenticity of these miracles:

(1) The reiterated approval of the tradition by many different popes from Julius II in 1511 down to the present day. This approval was emphasized liturgically by an insertion in the Roman Martyrologium in 1669 and the concession of a proper Office and Mass in 1699, and it has been ratified by the deep veneration paid to the shrine by such holy men as St. Charles Borromeo, St. Francis de Sales, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Alphonsus Liguori, and many other servants of God.

(2) Loreto has been for centuries the scene of numerous miraculous cures. Even the skeptical Montaigne in 1582 professed himself a believer in the reality of these (Waters, “Journal of Montaigne’s Travels”, II, 197-207).

(3) The stone on which the original walls of the Santa Casa are built and the mortar used in their construction are not such as are known in the neighbourhood of Loreto. But both stone and mortar are, it is alleged, chemically identical with the materials most commonly found in Nazareth.

(4) The Santa Casa does not rest and has never rested upon foundations sunk into the earth where it now stands. The point was formally investigated in 1751 under Benedict XIV. What was then found is therefore fully in accord with the tradition of a building transferred bodily from some more primitive site.

To their credit, the authors also acknowledge that this historical whopper of a story has not held up to scrutiny even from Roman Catholic historians:

It must be acknowledged, however, that recent historical criticism has shown that in other directions the Lauretan tradition is beset with difficulties of the gravest kind. These have been skilfully presented in the much-discussed work of Canon Chevalier, “Notre Dame de Lorette” (Paris, 1906). …The general contention of the work may be summarized under five heads: (1) From the accounts left by pilgrims and others it appears that before the time of the first translation (1291) there was no little cottage venerated at Nazareth which could correspond in any satisfactory way with the present Santa Casa at Loreto. … (2) Oriental chronicles and similar accounts of pilgrims are absolutely silent as to any change which took place in 1291. There is no word of the disappearance at Nazareth of a shrine formerly held in veneration there. … (3) There are charters and other contemporary documents which prove that a church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin already existed at Loreto in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, that is to say, before the epoch of the supposed translation. (4) When we eliminate certain documents commonly appealed to as early testimonies to the tradition, but demonstrably spurious, we find that no writer can be shown to have heard of the miraculous translation of the Holy House before 1472, i.e., 180 years after the event is supposed to have taken place. … (5) If the papal confirmations of the Loreto tradition are more closely scrutinized it will be perceived that not only are they relatively late (the first Bull mentioning the translation is that of Julius II in 1507), but that they are at first very guarded in expression, for Julius introduces the clause “ut pie creditur et fama est”, while they are obviously dependent upon the extravagant leaflet compiled about 1472 by Teramano.

It is clearly impossible to review here at any length the discussions to which Canon Chevalier’s book has given rise….the balance of recent Catholic opinion, as represented by the more learned Catholic periodicals, is strongly in his favour.

And yet, over one hundred years later, popes still use the site of the house to inspire the faithful and stories from journalists include explanations like this:

The Basilica of the Holy House in Loreto contains the walls of what tradition holds to be the house in which the Virgin Mary lived when the Angel Gabriel announced that she was to give birth to Jesus.

Which of course raises several questions:

1) Isn’t belief in the virgin birth hard enough? Why add a unit of angels with “Wide Load” banners attached below their wings?

2) If Popes can lead the laity astray on historical details like this, are they all that trustworthy on wayward priests, at the low end, or on what Jesus said (by way of oral tradition), at the high end?

3) But let’s not blame the hierarchy entirely. Why are Roman Catholic laity so willing to go along with such myths, legends, and fabrications?

Instances like this make plausible lines like the following from Lyman Beecher, a (trigger warning) New School Presbyterian who was not sure how Roman Catholics would do in a republic:

If [Roman Catholics] could read the Bible, and might and did, their darkened intellect would brighten, and their bowed down mind would rise. If they dared to think for themselves, the contrast of protestant independence with their thralldom, would awaken the desire of equal privileges, and put an end to an arbitrary clerical dominion over trembling superstitious minds. If the pope and potentates of Europe held no dominion over ecclesiastics here, we might trust to time and circumstances to mitigate their ascendance and produce assimilation. But for conscience sake and patronage, the are dependent on the powers that be across the deep, by whom they are sustained and nurtured; and receive and organize all who come, and retain all who are born, while by argument, and a Catholic education, they beguile the children of credulous unsuspecting protestants into their own communion. (Lyman Beecher, Plea for the West, 1834)

What Brett Kavanaugh Could Learn from the Holy Father

The asymmetry between the press’ coverage of the Roman Catholic church’s scandal and the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh are remarkable. Whistle-blowers in the church receive a level of scrutiny that the judge’s accusers do not.

But not to worry. If the press is as favorably inclined to Pope Francis as it seems, the Vicar of Christ may have just supplied one of his flock with the rationale he needs to defend himself tomorrow:

I take the Pennsylvania report, for example, and we see that the first 70 years there were so many priests that fell into this corruption, then in more recent times it has diminished, because the Church noticed that it needed to fight it in another way. In the old times these things were covered up, they even covered them up at home, when the uncle was molesting the niece, when the dad was molesting his sons, they covered it up because it was a very big disgrace… it was the way of thinking in previous times or of the past time. It is a principle that helps me to interpret history a lot.

A historic event is interpreted with the hermeneutic of the time period in which it took place, not as a hermeneutic of today passed on. For example, the example of indigenous people, that there were so many injustices, so much brutality, but it cannot be interpreted with the hermeneutic of today [now] that we have another conscience. A last example, the death penalty. The Vatican, when it was a State, a pontifical State, had the death penalty. In the end the state decapitations were 1870 more or less, a guy, [sic] but then the moral conscience grew, it is true that always there were loopholes and there were hidden death sentences. You are old, you are an inconvenience, I do not give you the medicine, it went so… it is a condemnation to social death. And about today… I believe with this I have responded.

Boys were boys at Georgetown Prep, and priests were priests in Pennsylvania.

Actually, in the case of Kavanaugh, Francis’ point has merit since movies like Animal House indicate what American society could bear back then about young men’s antics.

But can the pope really be serious that priests’ abuse of children or adolescents was part of the church’s outlook before 2002? Was it even acceptable for men called to celibacy to have sex, consensual or not?

Pope Francis may have said more than even Rod Dreher thinks.

This Is How Bad Protestantism Is

When scandal hits the Roman Catholic church, Roman Catholics would never countenance becoming Protestant.

In fact, when scandal happens, you rinse and repeat that Jesus promised the gates of hell would not prevail against the church:

He knew we’d sometimes have really bad shepherds. The Church has gone through a lot of bad patches in her almost 2,000-year history. She tells us, yes, these popes and those bishops and that crowd of priests, awful people. And those laymen, just as bad, and maybe worse. But those popes upheld the Church’s teaching and unified the Church, and those bishops and priests celebrated the sacraments that brings Jesus to his people.

The fundamental things, the necessary things, they always work no matter how bad Catholics get. Jesus lives with us in the Tabernacle and gives himself to us in the Mass.

Our Father didn’t promise all of these men would be saints, or even just run-of-the-mill good guys. He promised that the gates of Hell would not prevail against his Church, no matter what. He promised to be with us to the end of the age. He promised to write straight with crooked lines. For God so loved the world, and so deeply knew his people, that he gave us the Church.

And most relevant here, perhaps, he gave us the sacrament of confession. We can’t do much directly to change the culture of the Church in America. We can do something to change ourselves, with God’s help. And therefore, together and over time, change the Church.

Two curious pieces of this standard apologetic. Why do you think that priests and bishops who are awful shepherds will get the doctrine right, will do the right thing in the confessional, and they will actually understand the sacraments correctly? This is contrary to every single way that humans view flawed officials: they are awful, wicked, despicable. But we still trust them because Christ gave them to us.

That’s not exactly how it worked for the churches in the apostles’ day:

12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has ethe sharp two-edged sword.

13 “‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. 15 So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. 17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Rev 2)

Somehow we’re supposed to think the danger of apostasy doesn’t apply to Rome? Talk about exceptionalism.

The other curiosity in this defense of Rome is that it never seems to take into account what happened to Israel. God made all sorts of promises to Abraham, Moses, and David. But those promises did not mean the nation or the people would always be faithful or that they would escape God’s punishment. In fact, they were (Christians, Protestants and Roman Catholics believe) promises to the spiritual seed of Abraham and his descendants (see Galatians). But now all of a sudden institution in redemptive history, one institution trumps faithfulness.

Can it really be true that no Christianity exists outside Roman Catholicism? Vatican II even admitted that Protestants were brothers. So why is it so unthinkable, when the going gets tough for Roman Catholics, to think about following Christ in a Protestant communion?

The 355th Reason to Recommend H. L. Mencken

He had a keen sense of pretense, that is, when people were trying to be something more important than they really wore. Mencken was especially astute at detecting pretense in politics. Would World War I make the world safe for democracy or be the war to end wars? Seriously? Would a given federal program or policy eliminate crime or poverty? What kind of gullibility do you need to believe that?

When it came to spotting where inspiration left reason behind in political speeches, Mencken was relentless. Consider his take down of Warren G. Harding:

On the question of the logical content of Dr. Harding’s harangue of last Friday I do not presume to have views. The matter has been debated at great length by the editorial writers of the Republic, all of them experts in logic; moreover, I confess to being prejudiced. When a man arises publicly to argue that the United States entered the late war because of a “concern for preserved civilization,” I can only snicker in a superior way and wonder why he isn’t holding down the chair of history in some American university. When he says that the United States has “never sought territorial aggrandizement through force,” the snicker arises to the virulence of a chuckle, and I turn to the first volume of General Grant’s memoirs. And when, gaining momentum, he gravely informs the boobery that “ours is a constitutional freedom where the popular will is supreme, and minorities are sacredly protected,” then I abandon myself to a mirth that transcends, perhaps, the seemly, and send picture postcards of A. Mitchell Palmer and the Atlanta Penitentiary to all of my enemies who happen to be Socialists.

But when it comes to the style of a great man’s discourse, I can speak with a great deal less prejudice, and maybe with somewhat more competence, for I have earned most of my livelihood for twenty years past by translating the bad English of a multitude of authors into measurably better English. Thus qualified professionally, I rise to pay my small tribute to Dr. Harding. Setting aside a college professor or two and half a dozen dipsomaniacal newspaper reporters, he takes the first place in my Valhalla of literati. That is to say, he writes the worst English I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean-soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm (I was about to write abscess!) of pish, and crawls insanely up the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash.

The Bible tells believers not to put trust in princes. So does Mencken. Christians should appreciate his help.

Why Reformed Protestantism is Safe

You have ways to avoid the excesses of Jonanthan Edwards (which you never learn about from the New Calvinists), John Wesley, and Jim and Tammy Bakker:

From Edwards and Wesley, we receive a fixation on the will, a desire to create enclaves of piety, and a belief in the possibility of the individual’s direct experience of God. In the work of their successors, such as Charles Grandison Finney, we find latent belief in the sinlessness of the true self and an approach to revival characterized by the appearance of improvisation and spontaneity. These preachers cultivated the spirits of the multitude through results-focused experimentalism in the context of camp meetings around the country, sowing in the American character the seeds of enthusiasm that would yield strange harvests in every decade thereafter. The later 19th century saw the development of quasi- and post-Christian reform movements, fads, and pop-philosophies that would call individuals to embrace their higher selves—such as “New Thought,” which centered the will in a larger project of spiritual self-advancement through the unleashing of “the creative power of constructive thinking.”

The 20th century inherited from these enthusiastic forebears an epochal optimism. Even in times of anxiety and despair, there is a hopefulness in the American self, and this hopefulness is built upon that self’s utter reality in a world of mere appearances; though circumstances change, the self remains a firm foundation. The literary critic Harold Bloom captured something of the strangeness of this in his provocative and infuriating book The American Religion. “The soul stands apart,” he writes, “and something deeper than the soul, the Real Me or self or spark, thus is made free to be utterly alone with a God who is also quite separate and solitary, that is, a free God or God of freedom.” In essence, Bloom describes a post-Protestant Gnostic cult of the self: “The American finds God in herself or himself, but only after finding the freedom to know God by experiencing a total inward solitude.”

Bloom’s analysis hinges on a metaphysical intuition: that the self is uncreated, and it knows, rather than believes in, its own innocence and divinity. “Awareness, centered on the self, is faith for the American religion,” Bloom wrote, and this religion of the self “consistently leads to a denial of communal concern.” Christ is internalized to a point of blurred identity with the “real me.” Such are the fruits of what Bloom calls the “doctrine of experience”—an outgrowth from the taproot of religious enthusiasm. Christianity, Bloom suggests, was too cramped for the young, unbounded nation. Abandoning doctrinal encumbrances such as belief in original sin (or sometimes, belief in sin at all), an intuitive and endlessly innovative spirituality grew to meet this need.

* * *
Wild spirits prepared the way for the coming of the Bakkers. Distinct from mainline, fundamentalist, and evangelical varieties of Protestantism—but eventually influential in all three—Pentecostalism grew out of late-19th-century Methodist holiness movements, dramatically emerging through a revival in Los Angeles that began in 1906 and lasted for a decade. With a mandate to seek out the signs and wonders attributed to Christ’s apostles in the book of Acts, Pentecostals trembled, shouted, spoke in tongues, and did much else to startle and shock the sensibilities of average Americans. Promises of dramatic spiritual and physical healing found great purchase among those in poverty, and the new enthusiasm became disreputable both for its excesses and its hard-up—and racially diverse—demographics.

If Tim Keller wants to join that company of enthusiasts, have at it.

Jumping on the Eagles’ Bandwagon

Here is how one Roman Catholic writer saw the faith of Eagles‘ players as a win for the good guys (meaning the faith tradition centered in Vatican City):

On Sunday night, the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New England Patriots to become Super Bowl winners for the first time in history. But as national news outlets reported the big win, only a few also highlighted the quarterback’s Christian faith and his dream of becoming a pastor.

And he’s not the only player who praises God. A majority of them credit Him as their inspiration, and publicly, on Twitter.

In his Twitter bio, Eagles quarterback Nick Foles lists himself as a “believer in Jesus Christ” and uses his account to share quotes from the Bible. He tweets messages like “with God all things are possible” and “Thank you God for another day.”

And while quarterback Carson Wentz stayed off the field due to injuries, he offered God thanks shortly before the game.

“God’s writing an unbelievable story and he’s getting all the glory!” he exclaimed. After the game he added, “God is so good!!!! World Champions!!!!”

Two days after the game, Wentz turned to God after another life-changing event: He proposed to his girlfriend.

“She said YES!” he announced. “God is doing some amazing things and I can’t thank him enough!”

Acknowledging God is nothing new for Wentz. He uses Twitter to cite the Bible, give God credit, and even post pictures of himself with teammates kneeling on the field — to pray.

“My life is lived for an Audience of One,” he likes to remind his followers.

Likewise, running back Jay Ajayi tweets “GOD IS GREAT.” And wide receiver Nelson Agholor, along with left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai and right guard Brandon Brooks, tells fans “God is good.”

Following their win, wide receiver Torrey Smith tweeted, “God is amazing.” Left guard Stefen Wisniewski declared, “Let all the Glory be to Jesus!!” (Instead of stressing before the “big game,” Wisniewski contemplated Bible verses.)

In his Twitter bio, tight end Zach Ertz also identifies as a “believer.” Right tackle Lane Johnson wishes “God Bless America.” Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery regularly tweets out “God Bless.”

On defense, Brandon Graham once posted a picture of the team in prayer. “Win, Lose, or Draw we make sure we give God all the glory because he is the reason we are able to go out each and everyday and play this game,” the left defensive end stressed in the caption.

No mentions of Mary, the church, sacraments, or the bishops. It could be that these players are Roman Catholic, but they don’t talk like it. In fact, lines like “God is great” or “God is good” could actually be Islamic.

Which raises the question of just how firm Roman Catholics’ resolve is in maintaining the differences between Luther and Francis. Of course, Francis has met and hugged Protestants during the 500th anniversary of the Reformation observances. And outlets like Commonweal, America, or National Catholic Reporter are hardly going to bang the gong for Tridentine Roman Catholicism. But lay writers like Katie Yoder working for Catholic Voter? Doesn’t she worry that, at the very least, these Eagles are going to spend a very, very long time in Purgatory without all the assistance of the church’s sacramental system?

But that worry would get in the way of the boosterism that regularly afflicts religious “journalism.”

Postscript: Is that a WWJD bracelet on Nick Foles?