That Was Then

Here‘s why the church excommunicated Luther almost five centuries ago:

1. Separation of justification from sanctification.
2. Extrinsic, forensic, imputed justification.
3. Fiduciary faith.
4. Private judgment over against ecclesial infallibility.
5. Rejection of seven deuterocanonical books.
6. Denial of venial sin.
7. Denial of merit.
8. Sola Scriptura and radically private judgment: “if we are all priests . . . why should we not also have the power to test and judge what is right or wrong in matters of faith?”
9. Denial that the pope has the right to call a council.
10. Only justified men can do good works.
11. Denial of the sacrament of ordination.
12. Denial of exclusively priestly absolution. Anyone in the Christian community can grant absolution.
13. God has not instituted the office of bishop.
14. God has not instituted the office of the papacy.
15. Priests have no special, indelible character.
16. Temporal authorities have power over the Church; even bishops and popes: “The pope should have no authority over the emperor”.
17. Vows of celibacy are wrong and should be abolished.
18. Denial of papal infallibility.
19. Unrighteous priests or popes lose their authority.
20. The keys of the kingdom were not just given to Peter.
21. Private judgment of every individual to determine matters of faith.
22. Denial that the pope has the right to confirm a council.
23. Denial that the Church has the right to demand celibacy of certain callings.
24. God has not instituted the vocation of monk
25. Feast days should be abolished.
26. Fasts should be strictly optional.
27. Canonization of saints is thoroughly corrupt and should stop.
28. Confirmation is not a sacrament.
29. Indulgences should be abolished.
30. Dispensations should be abolished.
31. Philosophy (Aristotle as prime example) is an unsavory, detrimental influence on Christianity.
32. Transubstantiation is “a monstrous idea.”
33. The Church cannot institute sacraments.
34. Denial that the Mass is a good work.
35. Denial that the Mass is a true sacrifice.
36. Denial of the sacramental notion of ex opere operato.
37. Denial that penance is a sacrament.
38. Assertion that the Catholic Church had “completely abolished” the practice of penance.
39. Claim that the Church had abolished faith as an aspect of penance.
40. Denial of apostolic succession.
41. Any layman who can should call a general council.
42. Penitential works are worthless.
43. The seven sacraments lack any biblical proof.
44. Marriage is not a sacrament.
45. Annulments are a senseless concept and the Church has no right to grant them.
46. Whether divorce is allowable is an open question.
47. Divorced persons should be allowed to remarry.
48. Jesus allowed divorce when one partner committed adultery.
49. The priest’s daily office is “vain repetition.”
50. Extreme unction is not a sacrament (the only two sacraments are baptism and the Eucharist).

What about now?

If Lutheran teachings and practices don’t result in excommunication today, it likely has something to do with situations like this:

“Life is full of ambiguity”, Cardinal Cupich said, but the “important thing is to bring an attitude of discernment to a situation.” He then referred to a “wonderful article” by Professor Rocco Buttiglione in L’Osservatore Romano some months ago, “who situated historically that document in terms of the ongoing development of the teaching of the Church.” (Professor Buttiglione’s essay has since been refuted).

He ended by saying “there are enough voices out there in which the Holy Father doesn’t have to in any way have to defend a teaching document of the Church. It’s up to those who have doubts and questions to have conversion in their lives.”

Controversial passages never passed

But defenders of the Dubia argue that Cardinal Cupich’s comment that the controversial propositions in question were “voted on by two-thirds of the bishops” is especially problematic.

It is often forgotten, they point out, that despite the strenuous efforts by the Synod secretariat and others to manipulate and jostle the synod fathers into accepting the most controversial propositions (allegations detailed in my book The Rigging of a Vatican Synod?), none of the three most controversial propositions managed to obtain a two-thirds majority during the first, Extraordinary Synod on the Family, in October 2014.

One of them was a proposition relating to the “Kasper proposal” of admitting the divorced and remarried to holy Communion after a period of penitence. That failed to pass, and only a proposition calling for “careful reflection and respectful accompaniment” of remarried divorcees made it through.

Under such circumstances, they would normally therefore have been rejected.

In spite of this, the Pope controversially broke with custom, which he can do, and authoritatively insisted that all three rejected proposition be kept in the document, thereby enabling them to be carried over into the working document for the Ordinary Synod on the Family the following year.

Not to worry, the more ambiguity, the more it’s the church Christ founded. If only the consequences for souls dependent on faithful ministers of the gospel and reliable expositors of sacred mysteries were so ambiguous.

The Worse, the Better

It’s an odd argument, but in the Pope Francis era it seems to be more prevalent. It runs something like this:

He’s a lousy husband, angry, selfish, a slob, and abusive, but that makes him the husband God gave me all the more.

He’s a terrible employee — late for meetings, lies to customers, refuses to adhere to company policies, but he’s the co-worker God gave me.

He’s an awful king — he suspended habeus corpus, requires citizens to hostile to hostile and uncivil soldiers, forces us to pay taxes without giving us a voice in tax policy — but he’s the king God gave us.

And so, when it comes to the church, the fact that an institution so bad has existed so long is proof that it is the institution Christ founded.

For instance:

In the satirical writings, dialogues, of the 14th c. Italian author Boccaccio there is story about a Jew who has to go to Rome for something. The local Bishop has been trying to get the Jew to convert the Christianity. Knowing the Jew was about to see the Church at its worst in Rome, the corruption and moral turpitude of many of the clerics and religious, even Popes like the Borgias, the Bishop despaired that the Jew would ever covert on his return. However, once returned from his trip, the Jew went to the Bishop and said, “I’m ready to convert now!” The Bishop, flabbergasted, replied, “You went to Rome and you saw how horrid things were there… and you still want to join this Church?” “Yes”, said the Jew. “I figure that with so many wicked and corrupt people hard at work trying to destroy the Church, it shouldn’t have lasted 14 years, much less 14 centuries. It has to be of divine origin!”

Or again:

It was exhilarating, that moment when it hit me: “I’m going to become Catholic.” But as I experienced more of the modern church, and began RCIA, Patrick Coffin’s greeting to converts, “Come on in! It’s a mess,” started to make sense.

So did the words of Hilaire Belloc, which no longer seemed merely witty:

The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine but for unbelievers a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.

Even more:

Worrying about the daily confusion and sorrow Pope Francis introduces into our lives can impede us from working on our first priority—which is living our Catholic life in Christ as fully as we possibly can. With only exceedingly rare exceptions, we are in no position to offer correction to the Holy Father. Therefore, it will do us little good to engage in endless arguments over what is wrong, whose fault it is, and how the problems posed by the current papacy might be resolved. And not only will this do us no good, but it can be a significant source of scandal to others, most of whom will have little or no awareness of the issues at stake.

I’d like to suggest that it is time to turn the corner on Pope Francis. Most of us have no cards to play in the game of improving the papacy. But we do have our own callings, our own God-given talents, our own opportunities to engage in the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, to teach the truth and to foster the good. When we can use something Pope Francis has said or done in our own Catholic service, then we should—all the better! But when we cannot take our inspiration from Pope Francis, we can still reference Our Lord and the Church He founded. We do not need to come up against Francis and grind to a halt. That’s what I mean about turning the corner.

I do not presume to know papal theory well, but am aware that reservations about papal authority were much more substantial in the Middle Ages than they are in the post-Vatican I church where infallibility is now dogma. In fact, important medieval philosophers like Marsilius of Padua and William of Ockham (does that make me Darryl of Hart?) made arguments against the tyranny of the papacy that would seem to be relevant for Roman Catholics today.

But the apologetic that the deficiencies of the church only prove its necessity and durability defy Thomistic logic no matter how tight the syllogisms are under Bryan and the Jasons Kangol cap.

Here’s why: if the church is deficient, how do you then know that its truth claims are not also deficient?

Because the reality remains: She is the bride of Christ, and the Truth is found nowhere but in Her. Conversion to the one true faith remains the greatest, most life-altering decision a person can make—even if things are a bit of a mess.

In point of fact, the truth about conditions in the church come almost entirely from sources external to the magisterium, which sort of pokes a hole in those audacious (warning, Bryan Cross has removed the article about Papal Audacity) claims about the magisterium’s infallible protection of the truth.

Root Root Root for the Home Team

A return to Called to Communion led me to a review of Rodney Stark’s book, Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History. Surprise, surprise, Casey Chalk finds the book valuable (even if his encouragement leans more heavily on faith than reason):

I have examined only two of the ten topics Stark addresses in this review of the historical data regarding a number of contentious issues pertaining to Catholic history. Readers will likely find all the chapters worthy of attention, including those on anti-Semitism (think “Hitler’s Pope”), the Dark Ages (did the Church seek to limit intellectual development?), slavery (how complicit was the Church in New World chattel slavery?), and Protestant Modernity (Weber’s “Protestant work ethic” thesis mentioned above). Stark has done the Catholic Church a great service in presenting a thorough dismantling of many anti-Catholic narratives, as well as offering analysis as to how and why this happened (the answer, in Stark’s review of the history of historians, is overt anti-Catholic bigotry). Even those outside the parameters of the Catholic Church should welcome this study, as it enables us to move beyond the usual sniping characteristic of so many church history debates, and pursue a more thorough, historically faithful ecumenical dialogue.

Have historians engaged in excess? Sure. But pointing that out does not right the wrongs committed by the Roman Catholic Church or its followers. As Eric Smith pointed out in his blog post/review, apologists like Chalk still have some ‘splainin’ to do:

Stark’s argument in many of them can be summarized as “it wasn’t as bad as you think.” Chapter 4: The dark ages weren’t as bad as you think. Chapter 5: The Crusades weren’t as bad as you think. Chapter 6: The Inquisition wasn’t as bad as you think. Chapter 7: The church’s anti-science views weren’t as bad as you think. Chapter 8: Slavery wasn’t as bad as you think. Even when Stark has good points to make (“dark ages” is a misleading and unhelpful category, the Inquisition wasn’t insatiably bloodthirsty always and everywhere, and the church opposed slavery at many points), the reader finds himself disagreeing with Stark, because of the questionable assumptions and poor evidence he brings to the table. He starts most chapters by building a straw man. He presents what he imagines is commonly held knowledge, and then proceeds to poke holes in the poor scarecrow. This is a compelling literary device, since it draws the reader into Stark’s indignation. “Everyone believes that the Catholic church loves slavery!” (I’m paraphrasing). “But it turns out that the Catholic church doesn’t love slavery! This is satisfying as an organizational structure, but it leaves out and excuses many instances in which the church was complicit, was turning the other way, was not keeping its hands clean. It obscures the actions of a few rogue individuals, which Stark almost always concedes while claiming that they didn’t stand for “official” church policy. This structure makes Stark read like an apologist for colonialism, slavery, violence, and ignorance–things I doubt he would claim for himself. And ultimately this book makes Stark read like an apologist for conservatism broadly construed, since somehow, the true enemy almost always seems to turn out to be liberals. (And Voltaire…Stark hates Voltaire). Examples of questionable claims could be multiplied from later chapters–Protestantism is most properly characterized by Max Weber’s work on capitalism, witches who were actually practicing magic probably had it coming, and the church was an innocent victim of the French Revolution–but this review is already too long.

All of which goes to the frequent claim made on behalf of Roman Catholicism by the apologists. It’s the oldest, most historic, church that Jesus founded. History is good! But when historical inquiry reveals aspects of church life less wholesome, then it’s the bias of historians. Is that anti-intellectual, anti-Enlightenment, anti-Protestant, anti-anti-Catholic? Whichever anti it is, it’s just as much a bias as anti-Catholicism is made out to be.

One way around the problem of church errors is to chalk them up to the limits of time and place. Did Roman Catholic officials treat Jews well in the thirteenth century? Not really, but who did? Given the possibilities of human imagination available at the time, to expect 13th-century Roman Catholics to think like moderns is anachronistic. They were creatures of their context and hard pressed to do any better.

But there’s the rub for the proponents of papal audacity. Isn’t the teaching of the magisterium about papal authority as much the creation of historical circumstance — the need for the Bishop of Rome to assert autonomy against European kings, or the collusion of European princes with the Bishop of Rome to outmaneuver a political rival — as the Fourth Lateran Council’s directives about Jews?

All the help of Aristotle’s logic or Aquinas’s scholasticism will not free Bryan and the Jasons from that riddle.

When the World Thinks Well of You

Chicago’s Mayor, Rahm Emanuel on Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich:

What does he offer the city itself as a whole – you’re not Catholic yourself are you?

I’m Jewish. I would just add that his message, well obviously he’s speaking first and foremost to Catholic followers, has a universal value to it, one of tolerance and one of inclusion.

No modernism to see here (cue shrug), but that salt seems to have lost its flavor.

Protestantism as Trump

While Pope Francis is commemorating Martin Luther in Sweden, Karl Keating is doing what apologists do — deriding Protestantism:

We commemorate December 7, the “day that will live in infamy,” because it was the prelude to a long and costly war. Again, there was heroism, but we wish that heroism had never needed to be called up.

We commemorate Bastille Day and the October Revolution not because what came from them, the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution, were good but precisely because they were evil, and we want to remember that evil so that it won’t return in another guise. . . .

I see nothing to celebrate in the Protestant Reformation. It was the greatest disaster the West suffered over the last millennium. It brought theological confusion, political turmoil, and decades of war. The religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries killed about three percent of the world’s population, the same proportion that died in World War II. The religious wars would not have occurred had the Reformation not occurred.

But unlike the critics of Trump, Keating acknowledges that the other candidate has problems:

Much was wrong in the Catholic Church of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Personal morality was lax (though not matching today’s laxity), and corruption was widespread among the clergy and was particularly scandalous the higher one’s gaze went up the hierarchical ladder. One should keep in mind, though, that, however bad things were in the decades before Luther took out his hammer, they had been worse in the tenth century. If there were a few “bad popes” in Luther’s era, there were worse popes, and more of them, five or six centuries earlier.

The Church of the tenth century desperately needed reform, not revolution, though it might have fallen into the latter if reform hadn’t come about. But reform did come about, and the Church not only soldiered on but prospered. The result was the High Middle Ages, the era in which Catholic principles most effectively (but still inadequately) undergirded Western society.

By the turn of the 1500s a once-again-complacent Christendom was in trouble. It again needed reform, but what it got was the Reformation.

What Keating doesn’t answer is whether his communion ever experienced reform, or if his very different interpretation of the Reformation compared to Pope Francis is another indication that calls for reform, like the poor, are always with us.

Subsidiarity Matters

What happens when you locate the vitality of your religious tradition in the officers who are far removed from the socializing and rearing of human beings?

American Protestants are keeping their children in the faith at a higher rate than Catholics or the unaffiliated, according to the latest study from the Pew Research Center.

Four out of five children raised by two Protestant parents remained Protestant into adulthood. For those raised in Protestant homes where religion was very important or often discussed, the retention rate jumps even higher (85% and 89%, respectively).

For those raised by a single parent who was Protestant, the retention rate doesn’t dip much. Three-quarters of American adults who had a Protestant single parent still identify as Protestant.
Those raised by two Catholic or unaffiliated parents, on the other hand, were equally less likely (62%) to remain in their parents’ religion—or lack thereof.

A theology of the body for the trenches?

“One pattern regarding the passing on of religious identity from one generation to the next is clear,” Pew stated. “Among those who were raised in a single religious background (especially within Protestantism), the family’s religious commitment is closely linked with retaining one’s religion into adulthood.”

Papal Golf

The president of Catholic University of America seems to have taken too many meals at Outback — no rules, just right (no hell, just purgatory?):

What I really love about Pope Francis and the message that he’s trying to get across is that we’re Catholics, we belong to the Church, and we believe what the Church teaches because Jesus came to redeem us and show us His mercy.

The message to others isn’t, “Gosh, you ought to be Catholic because you should follow this or that set of rules.” The message is, “Good news: you’re redeemed. Here’s what a life lived in response to that truth looks like.”

Imagine you’re speaking to someone from Finland who has grown up north of the Arctic Circle, and had never seen a golf course and had no idea what golf was. You’re trying to explain to this person why you love golf and how important it is.

One way of doing it is saying while you’re in the tee box, you don’t want to hit it outside the white stakes because that’s out of bounds and the penalty is a stroke and distance, and you don’t want to go past the red stakes because those are lateral hazards and there’s a stroke penalty. And you don’t want to get in the sand trap because, while that doesn’t cost you a stroke, it’s hard to get out of.

You’d rather say, “Here’s the deal: you see that hole down there-we’re going down this short grass here and we’re putting it in the hole in the least number of strokes, and we’re going to have a nice visit while we do it.”

It’s not that there aren’t rules for golf-no out of bounds, no lateral hazards, no sand traps-it’s that focusing on avoiding sin is not the message that brings people to love Jesus.
Pope Francis is exactly right-the bull’s-eye of the Catholic message of the gospel is, “Jesus loves you.” Your life is messed up? We’ve got some good news for you. That’s what I love about Francis. There is nothing in any of that that doesn’t appeal to all of us. . . .

That’s not to say there aren’t out of bounds or rules or anything, which he’s stipulated, but because he’s so inviting, people are willing to take a first listen. Some in the media on the left would like to take from that the lesson that the Catholic Church has abandoned all the rules about lateral hazards and sand traps, and some on the right take the same mistaken view. And of course Pope Francis makes clear that’s not what he’s saying.

But when it comes to discerning a difference between the church and the world, no problem. The U.S. bishops are doing nothing different from the ACLU (I kid not):

When we invite someone to be a commencement speaker, the university is saying something. That’s why the American Catholic bishops say that Catholic universities shouldn’t give honors, platforms, and awards to people whose view is at odds with the views of the Catholic Church.

What they are saying literally is that universities like us shouldn’t endorse people like that. We should not say “Yay, Barack Obama, you support enshrining the ‘right’ to kill the unborn.” We shouldn’t give him honorary degrees or hold him up to our students as our example.

On the other hand, I would be perfectly happy to invite President Obama to Catholic University, even to talk about abortion if he wanted to. What better place than to have a conversation with the President about an issue that is important to Catholics and others? We’re just not going to give him a prize for taking a position that we condemn.

So, this notion isn’t at all inconsistent with notions of academic freedom on campus. It follows the standard kind of distinction that other universities follow.

Here’s a parallel example. Every year we see the ACLU bashing, say Montana State, for inviting some preacher to say an invocation before the commencement. The First Amendment rule about that is that public universities should not endorse religious positions, therefore, the preacher is welcome to come on campus to talk or to say prayers but they can’t make him the commencement speaker.

The ACLU doesn’t come in behind the bishops on their position, but they are saying the same thing.

Speechless.