What Rome and Mainline Protestants Have in Common

Fear of being small and on the margins.

The most poignant part of Ross Douthat’s new book on Pope Francis and the crisis over remarriage and divorce is the admission that to be large and influential, Roman Catholicism cannot demand too much from its adherents. Douthat uses several episodes from church history to put the current controversy in perspective and one of those was the seventeenth-century conflict between Jansensists and Jesuits. Jansenism lost not because they laced “theologically decisive argument,” “brilliant” exegesis, or a persuasive interpretation of Augustine’s thought. The problem was that Roman Catholicism would not survive as a global faith on Jansenists’ grounds. Here he quotes Leszek Kolakowski (who wrote a book on the controversy):

In the new world, full of novelty and excitement. . . Christianity had to mae itself, if not “easy,” at least much easier, in order to survive. One could not resurrect as a universal norm the ethos of the apostolic time when the faithful lived in the shadow of imminent apocalypse. But that is precisely what the [Jansenists] tried to do — to their doom.

One way of putting that is to say that to ask Christians to live as if pilgrims and exiles, as if this world is not their home, is too much, even if that’s exactly what Christ and the apostles taught.

Douthat adds that this — the gap between rigor and accommodation — may be why Francis will wind up winning:

…history’s likely verdict on this era in the church would be that Pope Francis had understood, as his critics do not, what the Catholic faith must accept to move forward and continue preaching Christ. Like the Jansenists before them, with their desperate quest for purity in a changing world, the “more orthodox” church of today’s conservatives could only be a sect, not a universal faith, so great is the gap between our own new world and their kind of rigorism. So the faith must change, and in the changing, the conservatives must diminish, and like the Jansenists before them, lose. (To Change the Church, 167, 168)

What this says about why conservative churches are growing is anyone’s guess. And whether its a consoling view for Protestants who operate in micro-communions may be tempting, but pride in smallness is a danger also.

What it does explain is the consolation that many Roman Catholics take from that 1.2 billion number. It is encouraging apparently to belong to something big (like those who follow Tim Keller on Twitter). But size has its cost and one of those debits is faithfulness. The current Vatican and many others in the church want Roman Catholicism but not too much.

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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).