If Bryan and the Jasons had truly been conservative Presbyterians, they would have carried suspicions of liberalism into the Roman Catholic Church with them. But that they continue to insist that Protestantism and Roman Catholicism represent two distinct paradigms while not recognizing the two paradigms that exist on both sides of the Tiber — one anti-modernist and one indifferent to modernism and its effects — they miss the central dynamic of modern Christianity.
Boniface at Unam Sanctum lays out that dynamic well. It is the relationship between the church and the world. Conservative Presbyterians after the 1920s were and still are on the look out for compromises with the world. So was the Roman Catholic Church. But since Vatican 2, Roman Catholic wariness has disappeared. Boniface explains:
The goal of the Christian life if holiness. Yet what is holiness? What does it meant to be holy? We understand that we are called to be loving, forgiving, etc. But what does it mean to be “holy”? Is holiness a mere sum of all other natural and supernatural virtues? And what about God? God is love, power, forgiveness, justice and so on. But what does it mean when the angels cry that God is “holy, holy, holy?”
The fundamental definition of holiness is separation. The Latin word for holiness is sanctitas, from whence sanctity. Holiness denotes separation or consecration unto God. When the angels cry “holy, holy, holy” it is because God is so far separate and distinct from all created things that awe is the only appropriate response in his presence. “Between creator and creature there can be noted no similarity so great that a greater dissimilarity cannot be seen between them”, the Fourth Lateran Council taught (cap. 3, “On Heretics”). St. Thomas defines holiness as a firm separation of created things which are translated from profane use to use in the service of God (STh II-II Q. 81 art. 8). This is why Holy Water, Holy Cards, Holy Candles, Holy Oil, etc. have the adjective “holy” – once they are consecrated, they are “set apart” for divine worship exclusively. To use Holy Oil for cooking for Holy Water for common washing would be sacrilegious. Their consecration is what makes them “holy”, and hence set apart for divine use exclusively.
Of course, a person is holy in a different sense than an object, but the fundamental reality that holiness means separation remains. A man with Holy Orders is set apart for the service of God. A holy person is one whose life is separated from worldly concerns and activities and who already lives, even in the flesh, in contemplation of heavenly things. Holiness is separation; separation from worldly uses and a setting apart unto God, “who is above all, through all, and in all” (Eph. 4:6).
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With the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church adopted a posture of “openness” to the world. Pope John XXIII harbored great hopes for a kind of reconciliation between the Church and the world that would lead to the mutual building up of both; what he called a “new order of human relations”, while also condemning those “prophets of gloom” who only saw the modern world in a negative light. This led to a massive paradigm shift in the post-Conciliar Church, a pivot towards the world. It matters not whether the Council documents ever called for this pivot; the essential weakness of the conservative response to the Council has been a narrow focus on the Council documents’ language and a failure to comprehend the Council as an event (see, USC, “Book Review: Second Vatican Council: An Unwritten Story”, Aug. 2013). The pivot happened and it must be acknowledged as a fact.
The result of this pivot was a blurring of distinction between the Church and world, between merely natural goods and supernatural goods. Worldly concerns seemed to be become the Church’s concerns. It started innocently enough with “world peace,” but then moved on to all sorts of other issues, occupying bigger and bigger parts of the Church’s canvas until the Church appeared as little more than an NGO concerned with worldly problems like climate change and youth unemployment. Not that the Church has no concern with temporal evils that offend God; but as the Church shifted its focus more and more towards merely natural goods, it began to address them with increasingly little reference to man’s supernatural ends.
The results were a spiritually deadening and embarrassingly banal Church that gives us such gems as “Driver’s Ten Commandments”, documents about immigration reform, and of course, encyclicals on global warming.
Boniface even detects such banality in the Pope Emeritus’ recent letter:
Perhaps this all expresses the tension in modern Catholicism – once one has opened up to the world, what is the overlap between one’s duties to the Church and to the world? What happens when they are in contradiction? Can they be in contradiction? In traditional Catholicism the answer was clear: the Church and the world were in a fundamental state of opposition. But once we have pivoted towards the world, what now?
Case in point: Consider Pope Benedict XVI’s recent letter in which the Pope Emeritus states that the Church’s pastors should be “shepherds for the whole world.” Benedict wrote:
“The service of a shepherd cannot be only limited only to the Church [even though] in the first place, we are entrusted with the care of the faithful and of those who are directly seeking faith. [The Church] is part of the world, and therefore it can properly play its service only if it takes care of the world in its entirety.”
What is a Catholic to make of these words? It is certainly true, in one sense, that since the mission of Christ was to redeem the whole human race, the Church can never concern herself solely with matters entirely internal. She must always be considering her mission ad gentes; God wills all men to be saved, and so we must labor for all men to be so.
This is nothing new. But is that the sense in which Benedict means it? He goes on to say that the Church “must be involved in the efforts that humanity and society put into action” to address “the questions of our times.”
The fundamental question is this: Is he envisioning the Church reaching out to make the world think about heavenly things, or the Church focusing more of its attention on worldly things? Does he want the Church to call the world to remember man’s supernatural ends, or is he proposing the Church help to world attain its merely natural ends? Is this a call of the world to the Church or a capitulation of the Church to the world? The problem is both philosophies can be read into Benedict’s words, depending on one’s predisposition.
Let me help Boniface out here by mentioning Pope Francis’ recent promotion of the “new evangelism.” Social gospel alert.
“We must not have fear to make the times of great challenges ours,” he continued.
Francis then said that people today are waiting on the church, “that it may know to walk with them, offering the company of the witness of faith that offers support with all, in particular with the most alone and marginalized.”
“How many poor people are waiting for the Gospel that frees!” the pope said. “How many men and women, in the existential peripheries generated by the consumer society, wait for our closeness and our solidarity!”
“The new evangelization therefore is this: to take awareness of the merciful love of the Father to truly become ourselves instruments of salvation for our brothers,” he said.
The term “new evangelization” was used frequently by Pope Benedict XVI, who created the pontifical council on the issue in 2010 and held a global meeting of bishops in Rome to discuss the matter in 2012. The exact meaning of the term and directive for the council have, however, remained a bit unclear.
Francis’ redefinition of the term seems to place the emphasis on evangelizing by example and in showing mercy and care for the poorest in society.
Touching on the process of catechesis later in his talk Friday, the pontiff said the question of how to educate the faithful “is not rhetorical but essential.”
Of course, the tension between the church and the world is not the dynamic merely of recent church history. When Tertullian asked about the relationship between Jerusalem and Athens, he was invoking the conflict between belief and unbelief. But since the late nineteenth century when Christians of various stripes wanted to do away (anti-dualism) with distinctions between nature and grace, special and general revelation, church and society, sacred and secular, the fundamental dilemma for western Christians (at least) has been whether to insist on such distinctions or whether to do away with them by making the kingdom of God a reality so much larger than the church (either bloated or itty-bitty).
If Bryan and the Jasons had picked this up while in Presbyterian circles, their call would sound different. And Bryan himself might be embarrassed by his alma mater’s decision to embrace diversity over evangelism:
Saint Louis University has removed a statue on its campus depicting a famous Jesuit missionary priest praying over American Indians after a cohort of students and faculty continued to complain the sculpture symbolized white supremacy, racism and colonialism.
Formerly placed outside the university’s Fusz Hall in the center of the private Catholic university, the statue will go to the university’s art museum, a building just north of the bustling urban campus.
The statue features famous Jesuit Missionary Pierre-Jean De Smet S.J. praying over two American Indians dressed in traditional clothing. Last Monday, just two days after graduation, it was removed from the location it has called home on campus for decades. . . .
The statue’s removal comes just months after controversy broke out at the Jesuit campus over a proposed statue to commemorate a six-night sit in that served as an extension of protests in nearby Ferguson.
After donors threatened to pull donations over the proposed statue, the university walked back the original intent of the statue, saying it would instead highlight the university’s values of diversity and inclusion.
If Bryan and the Jasons really want to reach the conservative Presbyterian and Reformed demographic, they really do need to find their anti-modernist selves.