Does POTUS Define US?

Of course, not. The federal government has two other branches and the United States is way more than its government. McDonalds? Hollywood? Caitlyn? Harvard? The military? Heck, we don’t even pledge allegiance to the White House.

But what’s true for a nation is not true for a church like Roman Catholicism. There the papacy does define Roman Catholicism. And Ross Douthat explains why investing all that power and identity in a single office is a mistake, or why Pope Francis is more of a threat than President Trump:

Friendly media coverage casts the pontiff as a man of the center, an ecclesiastical equivalent of Angela Merkel or Barack Obama or David Cameron, menaced by authoritarians to his right. But he is no such thing, and not only because his politics are much more radical and apocalyptic than any Western technocrat. In the context of the papacy, in his style as a ruler of the church, Francis is flagrantly Trumpian: a shatterer of norms, a disregarder of traditions, an insult-heavy rhetorician, a pontiff impatient with the strictures of church law and inclined to govern by decree when existing rules and structures resist his will.

His admirers believe that all these aggressive moves, from his high-stakes push to change church discipline on remarriage and divorce to his recent annexation of the Knights of Malta, are justified by the ossification of the church and the need for rapid change. Which is to say, they regard the unhappiness of Vatican bureaucrats, the doubts of theologians, the confusion of bishops and the despair of canon lawyers the way Trump supporters regard the anxiety of D.C. insiders and policy experts and journalists — as a sign that their hero’s moves are working, that he’s finally draining the Roman swamp.

Meanwhile the church’s institutionalists are divided along roughly the same lines as mainstream politicians in the face of Trump’s ascent.

There is a faction that has thrown in with Francis completely, some out of theological conviction, some out of opportunism, some out of simple loyalty to the papal office. (The analogy would be to the mix of populists, opportunists and institutionalists who smoothed Trump’s progress to the Republican nomination.)

There is a group that is simply silent or deeply cautious — note how few of the world’s bishops have taken any position on the controversy over divorce and remarriage — in the hopes that things will simply return to normal without their having to put anything at risk. (The analogy would be to most Republican elected officials, and a few red-state Democrats as well.)

There is a group that is relatively open in criticism of the pope’s agenda but also unwilling to cross the line into norm-smashing of its own. (The analogy would be to the American center-right and center-left, from John McCain to Hillary Clinton.)

This last group’s sheer diversity is one reason the Bannon-versus-Francis theory fails. The ranks of papal skeptics are filled with Africans and Latin Americans as well as North Americans and Europeans, with prelates and theologians and laypeople of diverse economic and political perspectives. Most are not traditionalists like Burke; they are simply conservatives, comfortable with the Pope John Paul II model of Catholicism, with its fusion of the traditional and modern, its attempt to maintain doctrinal conservatism while embracing the Second Vatican Council’s reforms.

But because this larger group is cautious, its members have been overshadowed by the more forthright, combative and, yes, reactionary Cardinal Burke, whose interventions might as well come with the hashtag #TheResistance.

Which places him in the same position, relative to Francis, that a Bernie Sanders occupies relative to Trump — or that Jeremy Corbyn occupies relative to Brexit. He’s a figure from the fringe whose ideas gain influence because the other fringe is suddenly in power; a reactionary critic of a radical pope just as Sanders or Corbyn are radical critics of a suddenly empowered spirit of reaction.

So the story of Catholicism right now has less to do with reaction alone and more to do with what happens generally when an institution’s center doesn’t hold.

You don’t hear Bryan and the Jasons saying much about church politics. It’s like reading the Federalist Papers and ignoring the 2016 presidential campaign. And yet, ideas do have consequences and the theory of chief and infallible interpreter of the faith is not simply an idea. It is a way of life. At least the federalists left behind a Constitution. What enumerated powers did papal supremacists leave behind?

No Legal Precedent, but Lots of Self-Righteousness

A legal scholar weighs in on local governments (think Boston) and churches that are creating sanctuaries for refugees:

While many cities have already begun to declare themselves sanctuary spaces for the undocumented, in fact there is currently no body of law or judicial precedent to which they are appealing.

“There’s really no legal definition of what sanctuary means,” explained Pham. (Even the most recent 1983 Code of Canon Law no longer refers to the practice.)

A bizarre result is that definition of the term “sanctuary” will end up coming from the executive branch.

“The President is threatening to withhold funding from sanctuary cities,” Pham said. “When he writes an executive order to do so, he’s going to have to define what it means.”

Some religious institutions might consider claiming that the declaration of sanctuary is an exercise of the rights afforded to religious organizations under the First Amendment. But that tactic will be of limited use to those seeking sanctuary, Pham said.

Such a claim, he explained, “is going to be resolved through a legal process through the courts, months later. It won’t be resolved then and there. And by that time the undocumented person may have already been arrested and deported.”

Pham also pointed out, “The housing of undocumented people is not necessarily covered under the First Amendment.”

So, the first thing to know, Pham said, is that to declare oneself a sanctuary “is mainly a symbolic statement of support.

In other words, no real help to the refugees, but lots of solace to the self seeking the superior life.

Another Golden Oldie

Thanks to Zrim, I remembered another internet intervention about 2k. This one was at Greenbaggins at the instigation of Reed DePace. It was a threepart series but here reproduced in one post.

Theological Affirmations

1) Affirmation: Jesus is Lord

Denial: Jesus is not Lord over everyone in the same way; he rules the covenant community differently than those outside the covenant.

2) Affirmation: the visible church is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ

Denial: Outside the visible church is not part of the redemptive rule of Christ (even though Christ is still sovereign).

3) Affirmation: the Bible is the only rule for the visible church (in matters of conscience).

Denial: Scripture does not reveal everything but only that which is necessary for salvation.

4) Affirmation: Christ alone is lord of conscience

Denial: Christians have liberty where Scripture is silent.
Denial: the pious advice and opinions of Christians are not binding.

5) Affirmation: the visible church has real power (spiritual and moral, ministerial and declarative, the keys of the kingdom) in ministering the word of God.

Denial: the church may not bind consciences apart from Scripture.
Denial: the church may not bind consciences on the basis of one minister’s or believer’s interpretation but must do so corporately through the deliberations of sessions, presbyteries, and assemblies.

6) Affirmation: Christ’s righteousness alone satisfies God’s holy demands for righteousness, and believers receive this righteousness through faith alone (i.e., justification).

Denial: believer’s good works, much less unbelievers’ external obedience to the law, do not satisfy God’s holiness but are filthy rags.

Affirmations about Vocation

1) Affirmation: the church is called to gather and perfect saints through word, sacrament and discipline.

Denial: the church is not called to meddle in civil affairs.

2) Affirmation: the Christian family is called to nurture and oversee children in both religious and secular matters.

Denial: Christian families will not all look the same but have liberty to rear children according to Scripture and the light of nature.
Denial: non-Christian families do not rear children in godliness or holiness but still have legitimate responsibility for rearing their children.

3) Affirmation: the state is called to punish wickedness, reward goodness, and promote peace and order.

Denial: the state does not hold the keys of the kingdom.

4) Affirmation: A Christian is called to use his talents and gifts to serve God and assist his neighbor.

Denial: some Christians are not called to engage in civil affairs.
Denial: the responsibilities attending one Christian’s vocation may not be the standard for other Christians.

Affirmations on Ethics

1) Affirmation: Christians have an obligation to submit to God’s laws as they are found in general and special revelation.

Denial: persons cannot obey God’s law truly apart from regeneration by the Holy Spirit.
Denial: non-Christians may not please God in their external observance of God’s law.
Denial: even if non-Christians may not please God, their civic virtue is crucial to a peaceful and orderly society.

2) Affirmation: Christians please God in their good works thanks to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

Denial: the good works of Christians are not free from pollution (i.e. they are filthy rags).

3) Affirmation: the state and families have the responsibility for establishing and maintaining social order.

Denial: the church does not have the responsibility for establishing and maintaining social order.

4) Affirmation: church members have a duty to obey the laws of civil magistrates.

Denial: church members may not rebel against or disobey the magistrate.
Denial: church members must not obey the magistrate rather than God.

5) Affirmation: God has established a pluriformity of institutions (e.g. civil society) for the sake of social order.

Denial: the church has no calling to establish social order but will have an indirect influence on peace and order by encouraging godliness in her members.

Aesthetic Relativism

If you don’t have standards for beauty, how do you have them for truth and goodness? Father Dwight doesn’t explain:

If you are a convert to the Catholic faith from Lutheranism or Anglicanism or any other form of tasteful religion, then you will have to deal with Catholic kitsch. What are we to do with the trashy trinkets, the horrid holy cards, the sappy statues? How do you put up with the banal hymns, bad preaching and sentimental religiosity? . . .

It’s true Catholics have some awful music and bad hymns. But we also have Palestrina, Elgar, Mozart and Byrd.

Yes, we do have plastic glow in the dark rosaries and those night lights you plug in where the plastic statue of the Blessed Mother lights up. But we also have the Pieta and the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo and Caravaggio.

It’s true we have brutalist churches that look like a cross between a flying saucer and a parking garage, but we also have Chartres, St. Mark’s in Venice, Sainte-Chapelle, Notre Dame, St. Peter’s and Mont Saint-Michel.

This is the authenticity of the Catholic faith. It is universal. It has room for the peasant and the aristocrat, hoi polloi and high falutin’, the learned and the ignorant, the tasteful and the tacky, the sinner and the saint.

With that kind of tolerance, why would you ever reject Protestantism?

But Father Dwight insists he has standards:

“If I were choosing a church I liked I’d still be an Anglican. I didn’t become a Catholic because I liked the Catholic Church.” I retorted. “I became a Catholic because it’s the true Church.”

How would he know? Because the bishop with all the high end art told him?

You can’t argue this stuff up.

Just In Time for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation

A papal crackdown:

For most of us, who are not Knights of Malta, the resignation of the group’s grand master will have little immediate impact. But the unprecedented papal intervention into the affairs of that venerable body fits into a pattern that should, at this point, worry all faithful Catholics. Under Pope Francis, the Vatican is systematically silencing, eliminating, and replacing critics of the Pope’s views.

During the reigns of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, “progressive” Catholics frequently complained about a crackdown on theological dissent. On the rare occasions when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a warning about a wayward theologian’s published works, there were anguished warnings about a reign of terror at the Vatican. Now a crackdown really is occurring—instigated by the Pontiff who famously asked, “Who am I to judge?” And the objects of the current crackdown are not theologians who question established doctrines, but Catholics who uphold the traditional teachings of the Church.

The first and most prominent victim of the purge was Cardinal Raymond Burke, who was exiled from the Roman Curia soon after Pope Francis took office, and given a mostly ceremonial post as patron of the Knights of Malta. It is ironic—and perhaps not coincidental—that the latest incident involves his new charge.

As much as I admire and sympathize with conservative Roman Catholics (like Ross Douthat and the author of this piece, Phil Lawler), can such folks really complain about papal supremacy? Isn’t this what rule by one is supposed to look like (and why Americans love to talk about checks and balances)? In fact, as long as Rome depends on the Bishop of Rome to support its claims of superiority — unity, authority, antiquity — can devout Roman Catholics really object to popes who use their authority to enforce unity?

Is Tim Keller Leaving the PCA for the OPC?

His latest post for the Co-Allies suggests he may:

The earliest Christians were widely ridiculed, especially by cultural elites, were excluded from circles of influence and business, and were often persecuted and put to death. Hurtado says Roman authorities were uniquely hostile to them, compared to other religious groups. . . .

The earliest church was seen as too exclusive and a threat to the social order because it would not honor all deities; today Christians are again being seen exclusive and a threat to the social order because we will not honor all identities.

Yet the early church thrived in that situation. Why?

One reason was that Christians were ridiculed as too exclusive and different. And yet many were drawn to Christianity because it was different. If a religion isn’t different from the surrounding culture—if it doesn’t critique and offer an alternative to it—it dies because it’s seen as unnecessary. . . .

The early church surely looked like it was on the “wrong side of history,” but instead it changed history with a dogged adherence to the biblical gospel. That should be our aspiration as well.

When you read those estimates of the early church, do you think more of the PCA or the OPC?

By the way, Keller leaves out one of the biggest factors in the early church’s “success”: the conversion of the emperor. In 300 roughly 10 percent of the empire’s population was Christian. By 350 that number rose to 55 percent.

Now all Pastor Keller needs to do is convert his fellow New Yorker, Mr. Trump. But I’m not sure how appealing a religion ridiculed by cultural elites and that is excluded from circles of influence and business will be. I am not even sure Pastor Keller’s experience proves that kind of Christianity “works.”

How Theological Liberalism Wins

First, you have the traditionalists:

I think you can see Professor Esolen’s essay as reflecting the long-term concerns of one group, in particular: Catholic faculty members who share a particular vision of the college’s mission. They assume that our Catholic identity should be at the center of everything we do, and they look to the long history of Catholic tradition, including recent documents like Pope St. John Paul II’s Ex Corde Ecclesiae, as crucial.

This group of faculty, in which I include myself, are worried. To put it simply, they don’t want to see Providence College join other religious universities who have moved away from their religious foundation. (Jim Burtchaell’s The Dying of the Light chronicles this phenomenon.)

Second, you have the social justice warriors:

Another group immediately involved here are some of the people who tend to fall on the margins in our community-and also those supporting them. They have serious concerns about systemic forms of exclusion. (And here, too, are a number of concerns that I myself share.)

They can see, for example, that Providence College’s 100-year history includes almost nothing of the African-American experience, or of Hispanic culture and tradition. In the last few years, the college has made a concerted effort to recruit more students, faculty, and staff from underrepresented groups, but frankly, it hasn’t always succeeded in offering needed support once they arrive.

For all those who are part of this second group, their frustrations are also part of a larger story: longstanding exclusion and unjust mistreatment of marginalized people. And, it’s important to say, some of these folks would also note that their concerns are prompted by Catholic commitments, beginning with a recognition of the dignity of every human being.

Third, you notice that tradition doesn’t get you satisfaction social justice.

Esolen’s essay was read as opposition to individuals, and, by extension, as disregard for the specific cultural realities they represent. Unfortunately, the essay’s polemical tone contributed to that reading, especially once the editor had framed the whole piece with a headline that was pure clickbait.

When a number of people voiced criticism of the essay, the president responded with his own critique in a campus-wide email, and the executive vice president reported the impact of the essay as “implicitly racist” in another campus-wide email. In the end, these official responses then confirmed fears of that first group of faculty that questioning the way that diversity is being conceived and pursued means you’ll be cut off at the knees.

Fourth, you see that lots of people outside the faith also want social justice.

Finally, you conclude either that those non-believers are really on the side of the faith, or that justice is as or more important than doctrine for real Christianity.

That means reversing what Paul wrote. Instead of “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied,” you now say, “If in Christ we have hope for resurrected life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”