Be Worried, Be (okay) Sort of Worried

Our game-show champion who wears a mullet doesn’t seem to be much concerned about the state of his communion. But others in fellowship with the Bishop of Rome are:

Last Tuesday Paul Baumann posted “An unbroken tradition?”—an analysis of an article by Ross Douthat in The Atlantic. Paul’s post drew almost a hundred comments. Some expressed indignation that anyone claiming intellectual credibility might say anything positive about Mr. Douthat. Others advanced to a lengthy and very substantial discussion of Catholic teaching on marriage. All too belatedly I reintroduced one of the main points of Paul’s original post. By that time, of course, virtually everyone had moved on. Allow me to try again:

Having admitted that Garry Wills is an “outlier” among progressive Catholics, Douthat nonetheless stated that what most progressives share with Wills is a belief “that Catholicism will always somehow remain Catholicism no matter how many once-essential-seeming things are altered or abandoned.”

Paul indicated that he shared some of Douthat’s worries “about how far the sort of church reform called for by some “progressive” Catholics can go before it damages something essential in Catholicism’s DNA.”

“The problem,” he immediately added, “is determining what is essential and what isn’t.”

Well, maybe other modernists can help, such as those Presbyterians who distinguished between fact and theory to tell what’s essential to Christianity and to vindicate their — get this — orthodoxy.

The General Assembly of 1923 expressed the opinion concerning five doctrinal statements that each one “is an essential doctrine of the Word of God and our standards.” On the constitutional ground which we have before described, we are opposed to any attempt to elevate these five doctrinal statements, or any of them, to the position of tests for ordination or for good standing in our church.

Furthermore, this opinion of the General Assembly attempts to commit our church to certain theories concerning the inspiration of the Bible, and the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Resurrection, and the Continuing Life and Supernatural Power of our Lord Jesus Christ. We hold most earnestly to these great facts and doctrines; we all believe from our hearts that the writers of the Bible were inspired of God; that Jesus Christ was God manifest in the flesh; that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, and through Him we have our redemption; that having died for our sins He rose from the dead and is our everliving Saviour; that in His earthly ministry He wrought many mighty works, and by His vicarious death and unfailing presence He is able to save to the uttermost. Some of us regard the particular theories contained in the deliverance of the General Assembly of 1923 as satisfactory explanations of these facts and doctrines. But we are united in believing that these are not the only theories allowed by the Scriptures and our standards as explanations of these facts and doctrines of our religion, and that all who hold to these facts and doctrines, whatever theories they may employ to explain them, are worthy of all confidence and fellowship.

Again, progressives that Protestants are, have already found debates over what’s essential to be quite liberating. Welcome Roman Catholics to the modern world (remember aggiornamento?).

Update: More Reasons to Worry

You thought the Western Schism produce three rival popes, well you haven’t seen what Francis has unleashed: now we have the Pope, the media pontificate, and the curial pontificate:

The media pontificate portends an ongoing revolution: the Church finally strips itself of its structures, goes out to the existential peripheries, enhances the power of national Bishops conferences, puts into effect the Gospel of mercy and gets rid of any idea of condemnation. The media pontificate portrays Pope Francis as a champion of social issues and at a same time as one who is able to approach pragmatically human life issues, such as abortion, which are deemed secondary. Conservatives are scared by the media pontificate. They fear – for example – that the naive approach of Pope Francis will lead to an endorsement of birth control in the upcoming encyclical on ecology, as birth control is sponsored by one of the consultants for the encyclical, the economist Jeffrey Sachs. They also fear that the encyclical may contain a certain opening to sustainable development, in the “new age” sense.

But there is a real pontificate that is never discussed. This real pontificate is well known by the “hidden Vatican,” which – in the face of talk about revolution – has faithfully and silently carried on its work, advancing the Vatican reforms that for some time had already been under way. This real pontificate demonstrates that Pope Francis defends the natural family and attacks gender ideology. The media pontificate broadcasts that Pope Francis has opened up to homosexuals, saying “Who am I to judge?” The real pontificate clarifies that, with this sentence, Pope Francis nailed the coffin shut on the issue: if gays live the life of the Church, he is no one to judge them; if they do not, he is still not going to judge them, but they are outside of the Church. Full stop. Any additional word would be superfluous.

Wouldn’t you think Pope Francis could straighten this out? No one seemed to wonder what his comments on the Armenian Genocide meant.

And if this is not enough to keep you reaching for sleeping pills before going to bed, perhaps the report from the German bishops will send you to Walgreens for Ambien:

4. Pastoral Care in Certain Difficult Marital Situations

a) Is cohabitation ad experimentum a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage?

The statements from the dioceses are unanimous in maintaining that “pre-marital unions” are not only a relevant pastoral reality, but one which is almost universal. Almost all couples who wish to marry in Church have already been living together, frequently for several years (estimates are between 90% and 100%). A recent demoscopic survey has shown that a similarly large proportion of Catholics as in the overall population consider this to be acceptable. Weddings between couples who already have children are becoming increasingly common. Here, cohabitation is regarded less as an “experiment”, and more as a generally-customary preliminary stage to marriage which is entered into intending to cement the relationship by these means and to marry later if the partnership proves to be stable. In view of the ultimate binding nature of marriage, and in an awareness that a failed marriage means a profound life crisis, many in fact consider it irresponsible to marry without living together beforehand.

b) Do unions which are not recognised either religiously or civilly exist? Are reliable statistics available?

De facto unions which are not recognised either religiously or civilly are a growing phenomenon. 87% of the heterosexual couples living together in a household in Germany in 2012 (20.693 million) were married (17.993 million) and 13% were non-marital unions (2.693 million). The shift can be made clear by showing another figure: 180,311 children were born to Catholic mothers in Germany in 2012. The mothers of 128,455 of these children were married, but 51,856 were not. This means that 71.8% of all children who were born to Catholic mothers in 2012 were born in wedlock and 28.8% were born to an unmarried mother. This means that, taking society as a whole, the share of children born out of wedlock in the new Federal Länder which make up the former GDR form a definite majority (in 2011: 61.7 % in the new Federal Länder; 29 % in the old Federal Länder). Even the birth of children today is thus no longer an absolute reason to marry. Catholics in Germany accept unmarried couples living together without any major reservations. Only three percent adopt a strictly negative position in this regard.

Is it spiteful to notice what the apologists ignore?

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The Further Appeal of Sola Scriptura

Why is it that Jason and the Callers use the Bible against Protestants but not against the bishops?

The lesson of all this is that God is not impressed by numbers. Yes, our Lord wants all men to be saved. But they will be saved on His terms, and if they will not heed Him on His own terms, He is willing to wipe them away and start all over again. He has delivered His truth and His commands, and if people are not willing to keep them, He will blot them out – even if He has to blot out an entire nation or even a race and start all over again from scratch. In none of these historical examples does God ever suggest that He will mitigate His law, relax His discipline, or soften His demands just because a large – sometimes very large – portion of His people are living in disobedience. He would rather wipe out the huge amount of dissenters and start fresh than relax even a single point of His commands on their behalf.

This is extremely relevant given current discussions about mitigating the Church’s long standing discipline of denying communion to people living in adulterous “second marriages.” The contemporary wisdom, exemplified by Cardinal Kasper, suggests that because there are so many Catholics living in this state who cannot receive communion, there is an “abyss” between Church practice and the real experience of couples in concrete circumstances. If the Church were to continue to deny these people communion, we might lose a lot of people. Therefore, we need to accommodate their rebellion by softening our discipline.

This is not the way God works. God is not impressed by the number of people living in “second marriages”, nor is God afraid to lose them all and work again from a remnant. Reflect again on that passage from Exodus; God had done wonders to bring these people out of Egypt and had given them the Law in a manifestation of divine glory unsurpassed in the Old Testament. According to the census at the time of the Exodus, Moses led 603,550 men out of Egypt (Num. 1:46); a massive throng of humanity! Even so, when they all rebelled, He was prepared to destroy them all and start all over again with a single man – essentially, go back to the starting point he had established with Abraham centuries before. He was not impressed with the numbers of the rebels; no angels made the argument that an abyss existed between God’s demands and the concrete pastoral circumstances of the Israelites that needed to be bridged; they held no committee meetings on the “problems” of Israelite religion. “Let me alone that I may consume them.” God was ready to destroy them all and start over again with a single man. And note that it was not by pleas of mercy for the Israelites that Moses’ intercession saved them, but by appealing to God’s glory and His own word.

You see, God is not afraid of working through a remnant. Cardinal Kasper is.

Too much skin in the game?