Married Presbyterian Pastors

Protestants do not receive nearly the credit they should for seeing 500 years ago what George Weigel recently observed (and it took Hillary Clinton — a Methodist).

First, marriage can be a good thing:

The Church’s unique, Christ-given structure invests great authority in bishops. And that, in turn, puts a high premium on the ability of the bishop to know his weaknesses and learn from his mistakes. But to know and learn from his weaknesses and mistakes, the bishop has to recognize them – or be invited to recognize them, if one of a number of vices prevents him from seeing himself making mistakes. Wives and children do this charitable correction for husbands and fathers. But Catholic bishops don’t get that form of correction because they don’t have wives and children. So it has to come from somewhere else.

Second, regular assemblies of clergy (think presbyteries or classes) also have their advantages:

“Fraternal correction” among bishops is an ancient and honorable tradition in the Church. Patristic-era bishops practiced it with some vigor, the most famous case being the controversy between Cyprian of Carthage and Stephen, Bishop of Rome. Today, bishops’ respect for each other’s autonomy tends to mitigate against the practice of fraternal correction. Still, if “affective collegiality” means anything, it ought to mean having enough care for a brother-bishop, no matter his position in the episcopal college, to suggest to him that he is off-course, if that is one’s conscientious judgment, tempered by prayer.

Fraternal correction is a delicate instrument, to be used with care. If its use completely atrophies, however, the Church risks becoming an ecclesiastical version of Clintonworld.

Hello! The conciliarists of the 15th century knew this. But when you hold on to “venerable” institutions, it’s hard to change (or admit when you do).

A Paradox Epistemology Won’t Solve

Once upon a time Andrew Sullivan edited The New Republic. Once before that time, Sullivan was a graduate student in political theory at Harvard. He was and still is a practicing Roman Catholic. He is also of English descent and gay. Those may be reasons why he spotted way back when he was a graduate student what many contemporary converts never seem to contemplate — namely, that being American and Roman Catholic are incompatible identities. The same goes for Reformed Protestants, though you’d never know about any tension between church and nation — unless the nation is blowing it — from the every-square-inchers, the neo-Confederates, or the God-and-country Calvinists who dominate mainline and sideline Presbyterian churches. But Roman Catholicism comes to the U.S. table with different bags and Sullivan understood why thirty years ago:

There was a moment on the pope’s recent visit to Chile that still lingers in the mind. Tear gas was fired into the crowd in Santiago, Rioting broke out within a stone’s throw of the altar. And John Paul II knelt to pray. Faces were turned toward him, looked up to him to take sides; and instead he proceeded to pray. The act was moving, but more important it was ambiguous. The pope’s presence alone was to measure the extent of his commitment.

Political explanations for the pope’s behavior—the advice of local bishops, his personal experience in Poland, the dangers of encouraging violence—have been offered, but they fail to capture the drama of what was really happening in Santiago. It would be better to ask why the pope was there at all. The answer is simple: the Second Vatican Council. That event, decades distant, contains the clue to the pope’s predicament. After over 20 years, the Council’s most enduring effect has been to have removed the possibility of a complete separation between the Church and the modern world
(a separation represented perhaps most clearly by the late 19th-century papacy). For the Vatican, a political engagement with the world, a compromising commitment, is in full swing. It was such an engagement that was articulated in Santiago, where the ironies implicit in living the apostolic life in the modern world were bluntly revealed.

The Second Vatican Council was aware of the risks of opening a dialogue with the modern world, though the text of its proceedings breathes an optimism now quaintly anachronistic. In its mass of documents issues were grasped with unnerving directness. Pope John XXIII’s opening address to the Council was the first papal document addressed not merely to the faithful, but to “all men of good will,” He reached out even to the Communist world, by drawing a distinction between the systems of belief that it represented and the men and structures that enforced these beliefs, “Besides,” he continued, “who can deny that those movements, insofar as they conform to the dictates of right reason and are interpreters of the lawful aspirations of the human person, contain elements that are positive and deserving of approval?”

More significant, though less noticed, was the peace that the address made with liberalism. As Reinhold Niebuhr pointed out at the time. It rather easily laid to rest the long-standing confrontation between natural rights and natural law, by conflating the two. John XXIII both asserted the necessity For “freedom” and attempted to make it compatible with the moral strictures with which natural law constrained us. Catholics had a natural right to freedom, but they were not entitled to use that right for any ends they chose. Catholics were not “free” to accumulate wealth without
limit, nor to exploit, nor to commit adultery, nor indeed to commit any sin. Yet the admonishing rhetoric deliberately suggested that they were still “free” in a modern and politically charged sense of that word. It was, it is, an explosive mix.

These overtures made sense within the historicism of the documents, especially Pacem in Terris. It talked of a “new order” in which “the conviction that all men are equal by reason of their natural dignity has been generally accepted.” This was an order as inevitable as it was largely unsubstantiated in the text. It presented an opportunity for the Church to assist in the creation of a universal common good by which nations could address one another. A notion of progress had entered the spirit of the Church, bound up with particular political structures and ideas. And yet at the same time the Church was to maintain an independence from them. In subsequent years that independence proved rather paradoxical. . . .

. . . it is argument, not assertion, that is needed for the discussion inaugurated by the Vatican Council. That discussion can no longer be wished away. And that discussion will go nowhere fast unless it acknowledges the contradictory nature of Catholicism in the modern world. This Weigel, the happy synthesizer, does not do. By declaring natural law to be compatible with America, by making the solution so comprehensive and so simple, by articulating a theory that will banish all the complexities, Weigel misses something essential in the fate of the modern Church: its uncertainty. History has not provided the Church with a comfortably Hegelian purpose by which everything has been, or will be, resolved. It has instead presented faith with a moral challenge, with a choice that includes both good and evil. Far from showing the inevitable triumph of natural law, modernity has
seen the destruction of even the concepts that make natural law thinkable again. Weigel’s confidence misses the depth of this crisis, and its consequence for Christianity. Modernity leaves Christians with a challenge to gamble. We do not know whether alliance or attack is the safest option. But we do know that escape, or a cozy coincidence of philosophical and political opposites, is no longer possible.

Weigel’s book represents just such an escape from the dilemma that Hanson’s book describes. The escape is certainly coherent; but its coherence is its flaw, since it transforms the risk of faith into a safe bet. In so doing, it obscures the essence of the Christian calling: to act in radical doubt, in the knowledge that any action, even the best intended, can be a manifestation of evil. This is the risk for the Catholic Church in world politics. It is this uncertainty that explains the anguished expression on John Paul’s face as he knelt to pray in Santiago. And it goes some way, at least, toward explaining the contemporary challenge, even in America, of the cross to which he turned.

Why Worry About Change?

When you can always interpret.

George Weigel tries to get out in front of Pope Francis’ upcoming encyclical on the family. But he couldn’t beat Cardinal Kasper (and, oh, by the way doesn’t a Cardinal outrank a layman in teaching authority?):

As is his wont, Cardinal Walter Kasper was first out of the starting blocks, announcing that the apostolic exhortation (whose date of publication he got wrong) would be a first step in vindicating his proposals for a “penitential path” by which the divorced and civilly remarried could be admitted to holy communion—despite the fact that his proposal had been roundly criticized and rejected at both Synods and in various scholarly articles and books in between. The Kasper spin was then picked up by some of the usual media suspects, who called on the usual Catholic talking heads on the port side of the Barque of Peter, who took matters further by speculating that the apostolic exhortation would open up even more revolutionary paths, involving the Church’s eventual acceptance of same-sex marriage and other matters on the LGBT agenda.

But not to worry, the Council that many think unsettled the church has actually settled what popes can do:

By declining Paul VI’s suggestion about a papacy “accountable to the Lord alone,” Vatican II made clear that there are limits to what popes can do. On the bottom-line matters at issue in the two recent Synods, for example, no pope can change the settled teaching of the Church on the indissolubility of marriage, or on the grave danger of receiving holy communion unworthily, because these are matters of what the Council’s Theological Commission called “revelation itself:” to be specific, Matthew 19.6 and 1 Corinthians 11.27-29. Nor has Pope Francis indicated in any public statement that he intends any deviation from what is written by revelation into the constitution of the Church.

Michael Sean Winters is even later to the pre-publication spin and offers his own prebuttal.

But what if the bishop whose job it is to interpret Scripture and tradition interprets dogma so it doesn’t change but its meaning does? This was the option favored by Protestant and Roman Catholic modernists. If modernism could happen once, why couldn’t it happen again (as if it ever went away)?

And then we have the problem of reason and what people with minds do to texts. Sam Gregg recently invoked Benedict XVI’s Regensburg address to call not his communion but the entire West to its former high esteem for reason:

One of the basic theses presented by Benedict at Regensburg was that how we understand God’s nature has implications for whether we can judge particular human choices and actions to be unreasonable. Thus, if reason is simply not part of Islam’s conception of the Divinity’s nature, then Allah can command his followers to make unreasonable choices, and all his followers can do is submit to a Divine Will that operates beyond the categories of reason.

Most commentators on the Regensburg Address did not, however, observe that the Pope declined to proceed to engage in a detailed analysis of why and how such a conception of God may have affected Islamic theology and Islamic practice. Nor did he explore the mindset of those Muslims who invoke Allah to justify jihadist violence. Instead, Benedict immediately pivoted to discussing the place of reason in Christianity and Western culture more generally. In fact, in the speech’s very last paragraph, Benedict called upon his audience “to rediscover” the “great logos”: “this breadth of reason” which, he maintained, orthodox Christianity has always regarded as a prominent feature of God’s nature. The pope’s use of the word “rediscover” indicated that something had been lost and that much of the West and the Christian world had themselves fallen into the grip of other forms of un-reason. Irrationality can, after all, manifest itself in expressions other than mindless violence.

Gregg warns rightly that “irrationality is loose and ravaging much of the West—especially in those institutions which are supposed to be temples of reason, i.e., universities.”

But if Father Dwight is any indication, irrationality also has its moments well within the confines of Roman Catholic parishes (even beautiful ones). If you wonder why the virgin Mary is the Queen of Heaven, just take a rational look at your Bible:

We simply have to read the Scriptures with Catholic eyes and understand the Jewish context of the Scriptures to see how the Catholic beliefs about Mary are all contained in the Scriptures. The problem is, they are not stated explicitly. Instead they are locked in the Scriptures to be understood and teased out. As the church came to understand more fully who Jesus really was they then began to understand more fully the role of his Mother, and as that became clear they also began to see that these truths were already there in the Scriptures. . . . The truths about Mary are subservient to the truths about Jesus because she is always subservient to her Son and always points to her Son. It is about him. It is not about her. . . .

Luke chapter 1:26-38 and Revelation 12. Consider first the passage from Luke. This is, of course, the story of the Annunciation of Jesus birth by the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary. . . . The angel Gabriel is called “the Angel of the Lord”. He is the main messenger direct from God. Therefore his words can be taken as a direct revelation from God. His message to Mary is therefore God’s message to the world. He declares solemnly that Mary’s Son will be the Son of the Most High, but he will also be the heir of David and the King of the Jews and furthermore his kingdom will have no end. In other words, he is king of heaven.

In the Jewish understanding of monarchy the Queen of heaven was not the king’s wife, but the king’s mother. Solomon’s mother Bathsheba played this role in the Old Testament. It follows therefore that if Jesus is to be the heir of David’s throne and be king, then his mother would be the Queen. Furthermore, if Jesus is also to reign over the kingdom of heaven, then his mother would be the Queen of Heaven.

At some level, Christians on both sides of the Tiber need to give up the idea that their convictions are rational in the sense that people with well functioning minds will recognize the point of Christianity. Aside from the noetic affects of the fall which predispose unbelievers to suppress the truth in unrighteousness, Christians also affirm truths that defy reason — like the resurrection and the Trinity.

But if what Father Dwight does with Scripture is any indication of the interpretations that attend sacred and infallible texts, no amount of bishops and cardinals bringing their conciliar foot down on papal authority will prevent interpreters from interpreting.

#interpretationhappens

See?

What Bryan and the Jasons fail to cover in their call to Protestants obsessed by modernism (read Machen’s warrior children):

Recently The Catholic Herald, one of our most reliable English Catholic weeklies, recently published an article by George Weigel on Vatican II and the subsequent fifty years called “Mission Abandoned” and carrying on the cover the phrase “George Weigel says we’ve wasted the last 50 years on infighting.”

Professor Weigel is one of our most distinguished Catholic writers who over the years has done great work in the service of the Church. This in itself makes me hesitate to take issue with him. But in addition to that is the fact that if I do I shall expose myself to the charge of carrying on the “infighting.”

However, there is one serious omission in his article which, if it remains unmentioned, will do a serious injustice to all those Catholics, like writers and readers of The Wanderer, who, over a period of fifty years, have done their best to uphold the faith and authentic magisterial teaching often in far from easy circumstances.

The omission is the word “modernism.” The impression is given that the “infighting” has all been between two groups equally Catholic in belief and practice, one labeled “conservative” or “traditionalist,” the other “liberal” who, like political parties, comprise the totality of the Catholic body and whose conflicts have been equally useless and destructive. It is as though Blessed John Henry Newman had tried to explain the Arian crisis after the Council of Nicaea in terms of useless infighting between “liberals” and “conservatives” with Arius representing the former, and Athanasius the latter, and coming to the conclusion that they should have reached a compromise.

Responses from the Protestant focus group continue to be received.

Roman Catholic Calvinists

Not sure that this is what Jason and the Callers had in mind.

Mark Silk compares politically conservative (read GOP) Roman Catholics to Jansenists and neo-Calvinists (I think he means New Calvinism) (thanks to Michael Sean Winters):

Today’s neo-Jansenists are likewise moral sticklers, focused laser-like on the twin evils of abortion and same-sex marriage, They are driven crazy by a Jesuit pope who tells them to stop harping on those issues, whose most famous remark is, “Who am I to judge?”

Where he portrays the Church as a hospital for sinners, they want to restrict Communion to the deserving, whether that means excluding politicians who are soft on abortion rights or holding the line against divorced and remarried Catholics. Possible papal readiness to open the door to the latter led Ross Douthat of the New York Times to blog the other day, ”Pope Francis would be either dissolving important church teachings into what looks to me like incoherence, or else changing those same teachings in a way that many conservative Catholics believe that the pope simply cannot do.” Oh, can’t he?

Today’s neo-Jansenists do their predecessors one better by embracing the Spirit of Capitalism famously associated with Calvinism by sociologist Max Weber. To tweet that inequality is the root of evil, as Francis did the other day, distressed them deeply. Altogether, they resemble the neo-Calvinists who have become the intellectual leaders of contemporary American evangelicalism.

The old-time Jansenism included world-class luminaries like mathematician Blaise Pascal and playwright Jean Racine but never the Catholic majority. In their emerging struggle with the Jesuit pope, the neo-Jansenists have lesser lights like Robert George and George Weigel, even as the faithful are overwhelmingly on Francis’ side. And so, history seems likely to repeat itself.

The good news for Weigel and George is that the Vatican makes no such distinctions. From their statistical perspective, the only distinctions are among bishops, priests, deacons, and baptized (not to mention monks and nuns). (But the Callers know better.)

By the end of 2012, the worldwide Catholic population had reached 1.228 billion, an increase of 14 million or 1.14 percent, slightly outpacing the global population growth rate, which, as of 2013, was estimated at 1.09 percent.

Catholics as a percentage of the global population remained essentially unchanged from the previous year at around 17.5 percent.

However, the latest Vatican statistical yearbook estimated that there were about 4.8 million Catholics that were not included in its survey because they were in countries that could not provide an accurate report to the Vatican, mainly China and North Korea.

According to the yearbook, the percentage of Catholics as part of the general population is highest in the Americas where they make up 63.2 percent of the continent’s population. Asia has the lowest proportion, with 3.2 percent.

During the 2012 calendar year, there were 16.4 million baptisms of both infants and adults, according to the statistical yearbook.

It said the number of bishops of the world stayed essentially the same at 5,133.

The total number of priests — diocesan and religious order — around the world grew from 413,418 to 414,313, with a modest increase in Africa, a larger rise in Asia, and slight decreases in the Americas, Europe and Oceania. Asia saw a 13.7 percent growth in the number of priests between 2007 and the end of 2012.

The number of permanent deacons reported — 42,104 — was an increase of more than 1,100 over the previous year and a 17 percent increase since 2007. The vast majority — more than 97 percent — of the world’s permanent deacons live in the Americas or in Europe.

That means Rome has roughly 5 bishops for every 400 priests and 1.2 million members, and 4 priests for 1,200 members. In the OPC, where the costs are nowhere near PCANYC levels, you have roughly 1 pastor for every one hundred members (and these members — ahem — meet membership requirements).

Why Monarchies Are Out of Favor

For more of the West’s history than not (from roughly 600 to the present), monarchy has been the preferred political order. Not until 1789 did constitutional republicanism become an alternative. Since then, republicanism (rule by the few) or democracy (rule by the many) have been the characteristic features of the West’s politics. Sure, we still have a monarch in England and the Netherlands, but they function more like furniture than political figures with real power.

This trend in the West’s politics has not transferred to the West’s ecclesiology. Rule by one (episcopacy) is still popular (even sacred) for some of the West’s Christians, while rule by the many (congregationalism/independency) dominates the worlds of New Calvinism, Baptists, charismatics, and beyond. Rule by the few (presbyterianism) is practiced by a few.

All of this is to provide some context for the recent news that an English Roman Catholic bishop, Michael Campbell has used the power of rule by one to reign in a renegade deacon:

A deacon who runs a Catholic website that criticised bishops, theologians and lay groups for being out of step with church teaching has been asked to stop posting material.

Deacon Nick Donnelly has been asked by the Bishop of Lancaster to stop posting on his Protect the Pope site and undergo a “period of prayer and reflection”.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Lancaster said that Bishop Campbell had asked Mr Donnelly to “voluntarily pause” from publishing in order to reflect “on the duties involved for ordained bloggers/website administrators to truth, charity and unity in the Church.”

The site, however, is being operated by his wife, with the latest posting encouraging readers to submit their own articles. Mr Donnelly, who has agreed to his bishop’s request, told The Tablet that his wife was running the site on her own and he has “no say” over what is posted.

Protect the Pope, which received 100,000 hits a month, regularly criticised groups and individual bishops and took issue with several Tablet articles for being at odds with church teaching.

One of the curious aspects of this story is that it conflicts with what George Weigel tried to teach us about the pope’s power: “Popes, in other words, are not authoritarian figures, who teach what they will and as they will.” Well, when have monarch’s ever not been authoritarian figures except when they ran up against a constitution or parliament that supplied checks and balances? And if bishops (rule by one) have power to act unilaterally within their dioceses, why doesn’t Pope Francis have similar authority to reign in priests, deacons, bishops, and church members in the universal church?

And that makes Pope Francis’ affect all the more remarkable because at times he seems more interested in playing the court jester than the king:

“I want things messy and stirred up.”

This statement by Pope Francis to youth on Copacabana beach last summer in Rio de Janeiro during World Youth Day will no doubt become one of the iconic quotes from this papacy, not only because it is a pithy sound bite, but also because — we are learning — it seriously represents Francis’ modus operandi. He stirs things up and then waits to see what will rise out of the chaos.

Francis’ delight in stirring things up is no more evident than in the preparation for the October’s Synod of Bishops. Even before the Vatican officially announced an extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization of the family, there were signs that this event would be different.