Mark Shea may fault with Rod Dreher for selectivity in reading the Christian past, but has he looked in the mirror lately? As I’ve written before, Protestants do not have the problem of history that Roman Catholics do for one because we don’t have all the history (and baggage) and for another because we don’t promote tradition the way Rome does, and for one more we don’t believe utterances from the past by church authorities are infallible (unless they are part of the canon). So complaints about the way Roman Catholics use and abuse history are inherently self-serving for Protestants.
Still, that does not explain why Roman Catholics keep appealing to the past as leverage against Protestants. Not only do Roman Catholic apologists have a lot of explaining to do about coziness with emperors, the politics of the curia and Rome’s powerful families, or the Crusades, for instance, but they also need to make past decrees square with contemporary ones. And development of doctrine just isn’t working when it comes to worrying about heretics and infidels leading the faithful to hell compared to praying with heretics and infidels.
Consider Shea’s recent celebratory post about religious freedom in the greatest nation on God’s green earth and whether Roman Catholics should embrace such freedom for non-Christians:
. . . the casual description of all non-Abrahamic religion as “satan worship” vastly over-simplifies things, just as the easy willingness to lump all expressions of Judaism and all expressions of Christianity together (presumably consigning Muslims to paganism and illegality) is tremendously simplistic. One pernicious lie embraced by many Catholics since 9/11 is to imagine that Muslims “worship another god” despite the obvious teaching of the Church:
841 The Church’s relationship with the Muslims. “The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.”
Many Reactionary Catholics protest this teaching of the Church and try to pretend that God and Allah are “two different Gods”. . . . Here’s reality: Allah is just the Arabic word for the Deity, as Dieu is the French and Gott the German and Deus the Latin. Some will claim that because Muslims are non-Trinitarian, they don’t worship the same God as Christians. The problem is, Jews also reject the deity of Jesus, yet are mysteriously given a pass, as your friends demonstrate. That’s because such Christians are willing to recognize that you can worship God while having an incomplete understanding of him–if you are a Jew. But because of anger of 9/11 and other Muslim crimes, they refuse to cut Muslims the same slack–and wind up talking as though there are multiple gods and not one God who is understood in various levels of knowledge.
The Church’s habit is always to affirm what can be affirmed in common with any religious tradition while, of course, noting the differences as well. Thus, St. Thomas could find much of value in the thought of both the pagan Aristotle and the Muslim Averroes. But the Church has historically gone much further even with paganism. So we find Paul affirming what can be affirmed with pagans in Acts 17 as he speaks to Greek pagans on the Areopagus. Likewise, the Fathers made all kinds of use of Plato In our culture of polarization however, many find this very hard. Outlawing other religions would only massively exacerbate that–in addition to being both wrong and foolish.
Aside from a theologically weak defense of Islam and Judaism, can Shea really say with a straight face that the church has “always” affirmed what it has in common with “any” traditional religion. How did that work for the Council of Trent in its verdict on Christians who affirmed the Nicene Creed? Or what does that affirmative impulse do to the history of banning books and movies? As one of Shea’s astute readers noted, nineteenth century popes (a few steps above Shea’s pay grade) would not have described the church as Shea does:
We consider another abundant source of the evils with which the Church is afflicted at present: indifferentism. This perverse opinion is spread on all sides by the fraud of the wicked who claim that it is possible to obtain the eternal salvation of the soul by the profession of any kind of religion, as long as morality is maintained. Surely, in so clear a matter, you will drive this deadly error far from the people committed to your care. With the admonition of the apostle that “there is one God, one faith, one baptism” may those fear who contrive the notion that the safe harbor of salvation is open to persons of any religion whatever. They should consider the testimony of Christ Himself that “those who are not with Christ are against Him,” and that they disperse unhappily who do not gather with Him. Therefore “without a doubt, they will perish forever, unless they hold the Catholic faith whole and inviolate.” Let them hear Jerome who, while the Church was torn into three parts by schism, tells us that whenever someone tried to persuade him to join his group he always exclaimed: “He who is for the See of Peter is for me.” A schismatic flatters himself falsely if he asserts that he, too, has been washed in the waters of regeneration. Indeed Augustine would reply to such a man: “The branch has the same form when it has been cut off from the vine; but of what profit for it is the form, if it does not live from the root?”
This shameful font of indifferentism gives rise to that absurd and erroneous proposition which claims that liberty of conscience must be maintained for everyone. It spreads ruin in sacred and civil affairs, though some repeat over and over again with the greatest impudence that some advantage accrues to religion from it. “But the death of the soul is worse than freedom of error,” as Augustine was wont to say. (Encyclical on Indifferentism and Liberalism by Pope Gregory XVI)
Accounting for history is hard. And the recent dust up between Bryan Cross and Brandon Addison proves the point. In a debate about apostolic succession and the rise of the Holy See (Rome), Addison pushed Cross to brand as heretical those who deny that the Bishop of Rome was a first-century historical reality:
. . . when Brandon in comment #23, says, “I wanted to point out that Catholics of good repute and in full communion with the Church share my rejection of traditional Catholic claims,” if the “traditional Catholic claims” he has in mind are or include either the claim that St. Peter was not appointed by Christ as prince of all the Apostles, or that it is not by the institution of Christ Himself that St. Peter has perpetual successors in the primacy over the whole Church, or that the papal office did not come from Christ through St. Peter, then such a Catholic is at least in material heresy, and is thus in that respect not in full communion with the Catholic Church. So for any Catholic scholar Brandon cites, if that Catholic is in [at least] material heresy regarding the aforementioned doctrines, then he or she is not in full communion. If, however, that Catholic is in full communion with the Catholic Church, then that Catholic disagrees with Brandon on these points. (footnote 8)
To which Addison responds with a logic that should have pleased Bryan:
Is this a claim that the following men are material heretics:
– Eamon Duffy
– Raymond Brown (and is Thomas Boland guilty of placing his Imprimatur on a work in which a material heretic is explicating his views which are tantamount to material heresy? What does that say about Boland?)
– Patrick Burke
– Bernad Dupay
– Francis Sullivan
– Klaus Schatz
– Allen Brent
– J.P. Meier
These men (among a litany of others) have published their views widely that they do not believe,
“that Christ appointed St. Peter to be the prince of all the apostles, and visible head of the whole Church militant, and that Christ gave to him primacy of jurisdiction.”
This is a point that I have tried to make with Bryan but Brandon makes it much more effectively. Whenever I’ve tried to point out that Jason and the Callers are out of sync with the dominant contemporary Roman Catholic historiography about their communion and its novelty after Vatican II, all I’ve gotten is “you haven’t proved anything.”
So what does Bryan say in response? Surprisingly, his logic goes squishy:
The purpose of our article was not to determine whether or demonstrate that any particular person’s position is material heresy. Rather, our purpose was to evaluate the argument presented in your essay, and present an alternative paradigm in which to understand the historical data.
So rather than comment on the implication of his comment for almost the entire field of Roman Catholic history, Bryan packs up his weapons and chooses a Protestant to critique.
Meanwhile, we hear of another Protestant convert to Roman Catholicism. Why is it that conversion narratives are so common among recent Roman Catholics? Could it be a carry over of the evangelical devotional practice of giving one’s testimony? That wouldn’t be very traditional.
It was difficult to explain my decision to become Catholic to many of my friends and family, most of whom were Protestant. Some of my friends who knew me during college weren’t surprised, since they had seen the progression of my journey and could see that I was heading in the direction of Rome. Other friends and family were surprised by my decision, and couldn’t understand my reasons for it. Many people assumed that it was a matter of taste or preference — as if I chose to become Catholic for the music, the liturgy, the incense, or the hats. But it was only because I was convinced of the truth of her teachings, and for no other reason, that I decided to come fully into communion with the Catholic Church.
Whatever the explanation for the rise of Roman Catholic testimonies, this woman’s sense of having arrived at the fullness of truth sure does not square with the forms of real historical denial in which Roman Catholic apologists must engage before eating the sausage.