What's In Your Kitchen?

John Zmirak adds to the confusion that Protestants have about papal audacity and the magisterium’s authority:

There is such a thing as a cafeteria Catholic. That term refers to people who pick and choose from the Church’s non-negotiable teachings, based on what seems right to their private consciences formed by the secular culture around them; their own urgent desires; and the writings of disaffected Jesuits, and radical nuns who traded in Thomas Aquinas for Karl Marx, Carl Rogers or Carl Jung. Do you find the Church’s historical teaching on divorce too much of a “hard saying”? There are theologians, up to the level of Cardinal Kasper (the friend of the Zeitgeist), ready to nuance it into oblivion. Do you feel that the Church’s condemnation of abortion or homosexual “marriage” is too “patriarchal”? Here’s a coven of nuns ready to teach you all about the love of Goddess.

But when theologically faithful Catholics question the current pope’s exotic economic views, which he himself has said are not binding on Catholics, suddenly those who dissent from core Church teachings are ready to break out the thumbscrews and light the stake.

In the piece that so offended Michael Sean Winters and provoked our phantom debate, I showed how the statements of popes over the centuries on economics and politics were at such variance with each other that it was simply false to pretend that the Magisterium extended to cover such questions. By definition, the Magisterium includes only teachings that have remained fundamentally consistent since the time of the Apostles. It is those teachings, along with the Bible, that form the core of Catholic faith. So if we find that popes and councils have differed with each other on an issue (as they indisputably have over slavery, lending at interest and religious freedom), then those papal teachings are not part of the ordinary Magisterium. They may contain worthy insights, like St. John Paul II’s forays into philosophy, but they are not part of the Faith.

There are some Catholics who are uncomfortable admitting facts like these. For whatever reason, these people — whom I will call Feeding Tube Catholics — crave the certainty that the Holy Spirit guides every single step taken by the church through its 2,000 years of history. The Holy Spirit picks each pope, they believe, and guides his daily steps, public statements and decisions. So whatever the pope is saying at the moment, you should simply shut down your critical faculties and believe it — regardless of what previous popes and councils might have taught. Those go into the Memory Hole, and pfft! They never existed.

Well wouldn’t that be nice? Except that then we’d have to explain why the Holy Spirit picked so many corrupt and cruel pontiffs, and why throughout the Renaissance He seemed to favor the cardinals who offered the highest bribes. That’s kind of a weird coincidence, isn’t it? We’d also have to ask why the Holy Spirit inspired one pope to dig up his innocent predecessor and try his corpse for heresy. Why did the Holy Spirit guide popes like Gregory XVI, Pius IX and Leo XIII to denounce religious freedom as a diabolical snare, then direct Pope Paul VI and Vatican II to declare religious freedom a fundamental right, based in both divine revelation and natural law?

The answer I usually get to questions like these is along the lines of: “Shut up, you sound like a Protestant.” Commentators like Mark Shea have demanded that Catholics adopt a pet-like “docility” to whatever the Vatican is saying at the moment, while one learned writer at First Things called on conservatives to accept Pope Francis’ statements on economics as the fruit of a “spirit-led Magisterium.” To which one must respond: Did the same Spirit lead all those previous popes who contradicted each other on issues ranging from slavery to the right of Protestants to worship freely without being arrested by the Inquisition? He sure seems to change His mind a lot.

Before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Ratzinger addressed the threat of Feeding Tube Catholicism, which if seriously pursued would reduce Catholics to the kind of mindless zombies imagined in the worst stereotypes of anti-Catholics like Jack Chick. Ratzinger had already pointed out one case where a pope (Pius IX) had issued a comprehensive manifesto of political statements (the Syllabus of Errors), only to be later contradicted by a council in its documents (Gaudium et Spes). Ratzinger spoke specifically of the case of Pope John Paul II, whose teaching on the death penalty differed from that of previous popes. Ratzinger sharply distinguished between dissent on issues where the church had spoken clearly and consistently, such as abortion and euthanasia, and disagreement with a pope who was saying something new. Ratzinger reminded us that the teaching of the Church is not some Moscow-style “party line” meant to wipe clean the minds of believers like the shake of an Etch-a-Sketch.

Let me propose instead of Cafeteria or Feeding Tube Catholicism a kind of Thomistic golden mean. Let’s call it Knife-and-Fork Catholicism. No, we won’t pick and choose from the Church’s teachings as if we were scanning for our favorite muffin type at a Shonee’s breakfast bar. Nor will we lie back, brain-dead, as the latest pope’s latest statements are downloaded into our brains like one of Apple’s or Microsoft’s non-optional updates.

Instead we will sit up like men and women with knives and forks at a restaurant. We will accept the balanced, healthful meals sent out by a chef whom we trust. But if there seems to be some kind of mistake, if we find on our plates gorge-raising dollops of stale Cuban, Venezuelan and North Korean prison rations, we drop our forks. We assume there has been a mistake, since none of this was on the menu. We send the chef a message that we will pass, in the happy faith that the restaurant’s Owner will agree and understand.

So far, I detect all three stripes of Roman Catholic here at Old Life. Many converts are Feeding Tube faithful — all that papal audacity in denial of all that history.

Some of the cradles seem to be the Cafeteria type, picking and choosing among the two infallible dogmas.

And some are Knife-and-Fork, level headed, understand discrepancies in the past and the present, and register dissent.

But what puzzles me is how it is John Zmirak’s pay grade to determine which meal is balanced and healthful. For most of Roman Catholic history, that determination was the responsibility of the bishops, the ones who would protect the church from error and shepherd the flock. So while I don’t want to upset John by comparing him to Luther, I’m not sure how his independence of thought is any different from Luther’s before the excommunication ax fell.

The Call's Fine Print

Still waiting for Jason and the Callers to weigh in on these matters:

In life, Archbishop Fulton Sheen was exceptional, a riveting Catholic preacher on radio who outpolled star comedian Milton Berle in the early days of television, winning two Emmys and a following that was the envy of Bible-thumping Protestants.

After his death in 1979, it was no surprise that Sheen would be pushed for sainthood. But now two bishops have clashed in an unusual public dispute over who holds claim to Sheen’s body: the New York archdiocese, where he is buried, or the diocese of Peoria, Ill., where he was raised and ordained.

The fight between Illinois Bishop Daniel Jenky and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York erupted into public view Wednesday, when Jenky issued a statement blasting the New York archdiocese for thwarting Sheen’s expected beatification next year by reneging on an agreement to return the late archbishop’s body to Peoria.

“Bishop Jenky was personally assured on several occasions by the Archdiocese of New York that the transfer of the body would take place at the appropriate time,” the Peoria diocese said in a statement.

The statement said that senior Vatican officials were set to approve a miracle attributed to Sheen’s intervention — the revival after an hour of a stillborn baby — clearing the way for him to be beatified in a few months, the final step before formal canonization, which would require a second miracle.

Rome expected that Sheen’s body would be transferred from the crypt under St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where he is buried, to Peoria to collect relics from the body, the Illinois diocese said. Peoria has been in charge of Sheen’s cause for canonization since it was opened in 2002. In 2012, then-Pope Benedict XVI declared Sheen “venerable,” a requisite first step before beatification.

But the New York archdiocese denied Jenky’s request to move the body and “after further discussion with Rome, it was decided that the Sheen Cause would now have to be relegated to the Congregation’s historic archive.”

The Callers’ spin? The veneration of relics is biblical:

I began to appreciate was just how biblical the practice really was. I realized that the veneration of relics, belief in their miraculous powers, and in the intercession of departed saints and angels was deeply Hebraic and Jewish.

Never mind how deeply political and messy and unedifying the making of saints is. Just set your mind on things above (except when you’re receiving notices from the Vatican and looking at maps on your way to the remains of your favorite saint).

This is So Un-American

While Rome burns with Pentecostal fire, Jason and the Callers continue to play mind games.

The latest Protestant to try to ascend Bryan’s holy cap is Mark Hausam, who is, according to his blog, “a member at Christ Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City, UT, a catechumen with the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, an instructor in Philosophy at Utah Valley University in Orem, UT, and an instructor at the New Geneva Christian Leadership Academy. I am a husband and a father of seven. I am an officer in the Reformation Party.” (I had not heard of the Reformation Party. It does not look like it is “a par-tay.”)

Mr. Hausam tried to show — it was a fairly long-winded piece — that Rome did an about-face on the matter of religious liberty of freedom of conscience. I don’t know why this is such a hard point to grasp. Protestants also did an about-face. Consider justifications for executing Servetus (or heretics in general) versus Witherspoon’s support for a Constitution that tolerated heretics (as Presbyterians understood them). What many fail to grasp — maybe even Mr. Hausam but certainly Bryan Cross — is that modern notions of freedom of conscience are strikingly different from pre-modern ones. For the Puritans, for instance, someone’s conscience was free if his conscience was rightly formed. If someone’s conscience was in error, then it was no infringement of liberty to coerce a poorly formed conscience. In other words, your conscience was free if it knew and followed the truth. If it didn’t, it needed to be bound. Today, in civil society we make no judgment about the right or wrong of someone’s opinions. We simply protect them under the umbrella of freedom of conscience.

Whether this is an improvement depends on your conscience, I guess. But I do think I’d rather have the modern version if or when a ruler who comes to power does not approve of my opinions.

Be that as it may, Mr. Hausam tried to interact with Bryan on the changes that have taken place in Roman Catholic teaching, especially at Vatican II. And what did Mr. Hausam receive? The classic Nun-like wrap across the knuckles with the ruler of logic. It even came to this riposte from one of the Callers:

The problem with Mark’s article is that his explicit purpose is to establish a formal contradiction within irreformable Catholic teaching. Establishing a formal contradiction requires great precision in the use of terms and in the construction of argument. Long paragraphs laden with assertions make it difficult, if not impossible, for the reader to pick out the actual premises which are supposed to establish the formal contradiction. I simply do not understand why you or Mark, in the context of an article whose express purpose is to establish an exact logical fault, namely a formal contradiction; would continue to resist calls to package the verbiage of the article into a logical form where the formal validity of the argument as such can be easily established, so that interlocutors may then proceed to fruitfully explore the truth of the various premises.

Well, if this is the problem, then logic is an impertinent bystander to the issue at hand. If Roman Catholic teaching is irreformable, then no amount of syllogisms or premises could possibly show a contradiction. It is impossible, which is sort of the situation when trying to have a conversation with the Callers.

Word to the wise: Vatican II happened. It embraced modernity, complete with the sort of debates and diversity that modern societies have negotiated. If Jason and the Callers want to return to a time when debates were simply an indication of infidelity, they may want all they want. It is a free country. But they should also realize that this was the debating posture that made many Americans wonder if Roman Catholics — the ones really really loyal to the pre-Vatican II papacy — were capable of living in a free republic.

Obsessive Confession Disorder

Jason Stellman may think I am obsessed with Jason and the Callers, but every time he root root roots for the Vatican team, he winds up jeering at his former teammates. So when he tries to vindicate Roman Catholic ecclesiology, he dissects the Confession of Faith:

Consider first the realm of ecclesiology (which is related to Christology most obviously because the Church is the Body of Christ). In Protestantism, there is no single visible church, there is no single visible entity that can serve as an analogue to the physical body of Jesus of Nazareth. While the people of Galilee and Judaea could have pointed their fingers and said, “That is Jesus Christ, right over there sitting under that tree, see him? No, not that guy, the one to his left. Yeah, him.” Protestants today cannot point to anything and say, “This is the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church right here. No, not that one, this one.” In Protestantism, the church becomes more or less visible depending on the circumstances, fading in and out, as it were, of one’s field of vision:

This catholic Church has been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular Churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the Gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them (WCF xxv.4).

But why dismiss Protestants when he could simply exalt and magnify his own magisterium (which has all that supremacy and infallibility)? Here is what Jason’s Catechism has to say about visiblity:

779 The Church is both visible and spiritual, a hierarchical society and the Mystical Body of Christ. She is one, yet formed of two components, human and divine. That is her mystery, which only faith can accept.

This might appear to vindicate Jason’s point about Protestantism lacking a single visible church. But then Vatican 2 raises its traditionalist-defying head. And what we find is that the singularity of Rome pre-Vatican 2 is subdued, thus leaving Jason to quote the Confession of Faith against HIS OWN understanding of the church:

Moreover, some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, and visible elements too. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ.

The brethren divided from us also use many liturgical actions of the Christian religion. These most certainly can truly engender a life of grace in ways that vary according to the condition of each Church or Community. These liturgical actions must be regarded as capable of giving access to the community of salvation.

It follows that the separated Churches and Communities as such, though we believe them to be deficient in some respects, have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church.

Nevertheless, our separated brethren, whether considered as individuals or as Communities and Churches, are not blessed with that unity which Jesus Christ wished to bestow on all those who through Him were born again into one body, and with Him quickened to newness of life – that unity which the Holy Scriptures and the ancient Tradition of the Church proclaim. For it is only through Christ’s Catholic Church, which is “the all-embracing means of salvation,” that they can benefit fully from the means of salvation. We believe that Our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, in order to establish the one Body of Christ on earth to which all should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people of God. This people of God, though still in its members liable to sin, is ever growing in Christ during its pilgrimage on earth, and is guided by God’s gentle wisdom, according to His hidden designs, until it shall happily arrive at the fullness of eternal glory in the heavenly Jerusalem. (Decree on Ecumenism)

For the bishops at Vatican 2, the issue was not visibility but unity.

And if Jason spent as much time looking through the teaching resources of his magisterium and less combing Protestant teaching to which he objects, he might also find a rebuke to his own dealings with Protestants:

The way and method in which the Catholic faith is expressed should never become an obstacle to dialogue with our brethren. It is, of course, essential that the doctrine should be clearly presented in its entirety. Nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false irenicism, in which the purity of Catholic doctrine suffers loss and its genuine and certain meaning is clouded.

At the same time, the Catholic faith must be explained more profoundly and precisely, in such a way and in such terms as our separated brethren can also really understand.

Moreover, in ecumenical dialogue, Catholic theologians standing fast by the teaching of the Church and investigating the divine mysteries with the separated brethren must proceed with love for the truth, with charity, and with humility. When comparing doctrines with one another, they should remember that in Catholic doctrine there exists a “hierarchy” of truths, since they vary in their relation to the fundamental Christian faith. Thus the way will be opened by which through fraternal rivalry all will be stirred to a deeper understanding and a clearer presentation of the unfathomable riches of Christ. (Decree on Ecumenism)

So again, why doesn’t Jason get on board with the kinder gentler version of Roman Catholicism that has only been around for as long as he has been alive? OCD?

Right Church, Wrong Paradigm

In the effort to keep Jason and the Callers honest about church history and how their paradigm fails epicly, herewith an excerpt from a relatively older article from America about the first Roman Catholic presidential candidate (1928), Al Smith, and the flack he took for the Vatican’s opposition to all societies modern. The New York governor, himself, like many a lay Roman Catholic, did not hang on every word of the magisterium. So when asked whether he could support religious liberty and the separation of church and state, his reply was essentially, “sure, why would you ask?” An exchange in the Atlantic Monthly would require Smith to be more eloquent, but he still didn’t see a problem:

Al Smith could hardly deny that union of church and state was the ideal that was enshrined in papal encyclicals. But Smith replied that this ideal applied only to purely Catholic states, and that such states no longer existed anywhere in the world. “I think that you have taken your thesis from [the] limbo of defunct controversies,” Smith told Marshall. Essentially Smith was telling Marshall that the teaching of 19th-century popes about the union of church and state was no longer official church teaching, because the church had quietly dropped it as no longer applicable in the modern world, least of all in the United States.

Even though Smith won the debate about Rome (and lost the election, also about a Roman Catholic), Thomas J. Shelley thinks that Smith’s anti-Catholic interlocutors had a point: “Smith . . . asserted that the teachings of the 19th-century popes on religious liberty were no longer operative (as a 20th-century presidential press secretary might put it), but they could not cite a single authoritative church document to prove their assertion. There was no such document. . .”

Said document would be forthcoming with the Second Vatican Council:

For the first time in its long history, in the “Declaration on Religious Liberty” the Catholic Church stated unambiguously that “the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion in such wise that in matters religious no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs…. The Council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed Word of God and through reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed. Thus it is to become a civil right (No. 2).”

Never before had the highest authorities of the Catholic Church expressed such unqualified approval of the rights of conscience of every individual. Prior to Vatican II the official teaching of the church was that error should not be accorded the same rights as truth. The “Declaration on Religious Liberty” stated: “[T]he right to religious freedom has its foundation, not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it” (No. 2).

Shelley concludes with a concession about the historical sleight of hand that is required of Roman Catholics living after Vatican II:

When challenged by reporters or fellow politicians, Al Smith was fond of replying, “Let’s look at the record.” To some extent, as Charles Marshall [Smith’s Protestant critic] insisted, both Governor Smith and Father Duffy [Smith’s clerical advisor] fudged the record of the Catholic Church on religious liberty in 1927. A kinder critic might say that they anticipated the record by almost 40 years. In any event, the “Declaration on Religious Liberty” provided the authoritative pronouncement for which Father Duffy was grappling when he declared, “We are Catholics and we are Americans, and to both loyalties we stick.” “The Declaration on Religious Liberty” eliminated a longstanding source of suspicion and friction from American political life, and for that happy development not only Catholic politicians, but all Americans can be grateful to the Second Vatican Council.

What happened at Vatican II had never happened before. What paradigm do you need to recognize novelty, not only among Protestants, but also among Roman Catholics?

Should I (all about me) Be Hurt?

A sampling of various Roman Catholic takes on Protestants:

First (@September 1, 2013 at 8:07 am):

And this is why I have repeatedly said that if the Church were what Protestants claim it to be, then there would be no reason to be Christian in the first place. I very much appreciate that Protestants can manage the cognitive dissonance required to sustain that state of affairs, but let’s be clear that it is cognitive dissonance. Under no circumstances can what was produced by the Reformation be reconciled with the Christian Church of the conciliar era. And if there is no such institution remaining, then Christianity is dead, and we’re all just in denial about the fact. So that’s what your argument, if sound, would really prove, that Catholics and Protestants are both in denial about Christianity having died in the early modern era and that its death throes have taken a very long time. If we’re all in denial about history, then the inexorable conclusion is that history shows following Christianity is a fool’s game, indulged only by the foolish and unwise.

. . . Protestantism has done the same thing that the Brennan-led justices did to substantive due process; it takes what was a solution to a crisis based on internal principles (the use of a council to clarify papal selection) and used that to work the annihilation of the underlying framework. This is why Protestants are all liberals, even the “conservative” ones, just as even “conservative” judges are now operating in a framework built by liberals. Denial of the principles of the Church is built into your origin; what you teach was an invention that is not what the Church is or ever was. You would do the same thing to the Church that the liberal judiciary has done to the rule of law: destroy it by sheer imposition of your subjective opinion. Alasdair MacIntyre and Brad Gregory have warned you, but you aren’t listening.

Then this:

Mormonism is another version of Protestantism. Instead of deleting books out of scripture, they added books to scripture, which the template of Protestantism permitted them to do. Who could deny them? Luther? Calvin? Henry VIII? Wesley? Mary Baker Eddy? It might be noted that none of those individual’s consulted the others on breaking away or seeking a method of holiness.

The template of Protestantism is that one can make up one’s own version of religion to suit one’s self by making the scripture say whatever that individual wants it to say.

And to round out (@August 31, 2013 at 1:27 pm) the anti-Protestantism (emerging among some Americans as the new acceptable prejudice):

If there is so much agreement in the Solas, why are there over 23,000 Protestant communities? Apparently, it makes quite a bit of difference to Protestants.
I can’t speak for the rest of the Catholics, but I’m pretty sure they agree that what matters is that:
a. Protestant doctrine contradicts Sacred Tradition.
b. Protestant doctrine contradicts Scripture.
c. Protestant doctrine contradicts the Teaching of the Church.
d. Protestant doctrine is illogical.
e. Protestantism is ahistorical.
That is why I’m Catholic and not Protestant. Whether Protestants agree with each other is besides the point. Even if they agreed with each other, they would simply be agreeing upon errors.

Are their bishops reading? Is Pope Francis who said:

The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.

"We Told You So" – Jason and the Callers Newest Single

Apparently Jason Stellman thinks the historical arguments about Roman Catholicism are unfair if Protestants themselves don’t also have to answer arguments against their brand of Christianity. He might have a point if such Protestants were converts from Rome and continually banged the drum for the superiority of Protestantism to Roman Catholicism, all the while skirting such issues as the lack of institutional unity, the variety of interpretations of the Bible, or acting as if Augustine passed the torch directly and in the flesh to Luther. So far, I haven’t seen those blogs.

What I have seen, though, are Jason and the Callers ducking for cover whenever unpleasant historical incidents from Roman Catholicism show a less than attractive side to the church (and so make the conversion narratives look — let’s say — incomplete). Jason and Bryan Cross claim that they have repeatedly answered these objections. Jason does so by pointing to one — ONE!!! — post (too numerous to count) and Bryan does it by linking to a series of other links which take readers the same place the the Condor’s phone calls did when he re-patched the wires in Three Days of the Condor — for the cinematically illiterate — that is, nowhere. Jason and the Callers do not interact with the direct changes between, say Unam Sanctam and Vatican II on religious freedom and the separation of church and state, or with the conciliar tradition that antedates (according to leading medieval historians who are supposed to have the right paradigm) their preferred high (read: audacious) papalism, or anything about Edgardo Mortara and the Vatican’s place in Italian and European politics, or the Inquisition, or the Index of Books, of the Avignon Papacy and the Western Schism and the crisis of the papacy. Granted, they don’t need to answer each and every one. But talk about hand waving. When you promote something as the best there ever was, and then you find that the best was also responsible for some of the worst in Christian history, maybe you want to change your story?

So let’s clarify the issue. We have a blog, known as Called to Communion, where converts from Reformed Protestantism talk about the woes of Protestantism and how Rome solves all those problems. The converts who have posted there make historical claims but their history almost never includes the dark side of Roman Catholic history. Perhaps they don’t know the history. Or perhaps they are so keen to justify their switch that they cherry pick from the past. Here’s a sampling:

From Stellman himself:

Historically speaking, the idea that the written Word of God is formally sufficient for all things related to faith and practice, such that anyone of normal intelligence and reasonably good intentions could read it and deduce from it what is necessary for orthodoxy and orthopraxy, is not a position that I see reflected in the writings of the early Church fathers. While there are plenty of statements in their writings that speak in glowing terms about the qualitative uniqueness of Scripture, those statements, for them, do not do away with the need for Scripture to be interpreted by the Church in a binding and authoritative way when necessary.

From David Anders:

I began my Ph.D. studies in September of 1995. I took courses in early, medieval, and Reformation Church history. I read the Church Fathers, the scholastic theologians, and the Protestant Reformers. At each stage, I tried to relate later theologians to earlier ones, and all of them to the Scriptures. I had a goal of justifying the Reformation and this meant, above all, investigating the doctrine of justification by faith alone[…]

My first difficulty arose when I began to grasp what Augustine really taught about salvation. Briefly put, Augustine rejected “faith alone.” It is true that he had a high regard for faith and grace, but he saw these mainly as the source of our good works. Augustine taught that we literally “merit” eternal life when our lives are transformed by grace. This is quite different from the Protestant point of view[…]

No matter where I looked, on whatever continent, in whatever century, the Fathers agreed: salvation comes through the transformation of the moral life and not by faith alone. They also taught that this transformation begins and is nourished in the sacraments, and not through some individual conversion experience[…]

From Jason Kettinger:

I have made two perhaps frustrating assumptions: that the Church of Christ is visible, and that the Catholic Church today is that Church. I can only say that Petrine primacy was rather easily established from the Fathers, and that patristic authors on the Eucharist and apostolic succession cast more than a reasonable doubt on both the authority of my community to believe otherwise (and still be the Church) and the antiquity of those particular beliefs. Some might say that I have been a rebel from day one, and there is some truth in that. However, even as I actively investigated Catholic claims, and explored Catholic life, I never lost sight of Christ Jesus. I found Him there as I went; I pleaded with Him to guide me. I gave Jesus every question.

From Jason Stewart:

Going into this I had to admit that my familiarity with the actual works of the Fathers was limited. Thumbing curiously through a random volume from Schaff’s Patristics collection or culling a quote from Ignatius or Augustine or reading a history of early doctrine text for seminary coursework exhausted my contact with these ancient Christian authors. I had known for a long time that the Church Fathers did not share my Reformed theological vocabulary. But such was to be expected, I guessed. The Protestant Reformation with its precise theological formulations was many centuries away when these men wrote. So what (my thinking went) if Irenaeus or Justin or Augustine didn’t sound exactly like our Reformed creeds and catechisms? Yet now in examining their writings I began to sense that indeed there was something more profound at work than a mere difference in expression or emphasis. Was the Catholic claim right? Continued reading suggested that the actual theological substance of the Fathers was different. Certainly the Fathers didn’t seem at odds with the positive elements of the Reformation. But I noticed in my reading that they thought differently than did the reformers. Their approach to the Christian faith took another route. They seemed to cut an early theological path that when traced did not exactly connect to the one blazed by the reformers in the 16th century. I began to consider whether a person would naturally pick up the distinctive trail of the Protestant Reformation if one started with the writings of the early Church? The answer increasingly seemed to be no.

The pattern is pretty clear. Throw Protestantism aside by examining the past. The past in view is invariably the early church fathers, against which Protestants come up short. Then elide right into the idea that “this is the church Christ founded” and you have the early church as no different from Benedict XVI. Let’s just say, this is not very good history, but history is pretty crucial to the Callers’ understanding of their conversion. In which case, bringing up other parts of the past is entirely fair, and if the Callers can’t answer, then call David Barton.

In the conversion narratives I examined I saw only one that conceded Rome’s defects. Joshua Lim admitted:

As many Protestants warn, there are certain difficulties that the Catholic convert must necessarily face. The contemporary Catholic Church in America is far from perfect. Liturgically, there are, at least in Southern California, very few parishes that celebrate Mass the way Catholics should; there are numerous liberal Catholics who don’t submit to the Magisterium (to the delight of Protestants), the list seems endless.

That’s a pretty contemporary list (like Stellman’s), suggesting to me Joshua doesn’t have any idea about the difficulties between theory and reality from Roman Catholic church history.

Even so, Lim goes on to make it all better:

. . . none of this is actually new for the Church; things have always been so. These issues have not moved me from the conviction that the Catholic Church is the true Church; on the contrary, they have only increased my faith that this must be the true Church. If Christ could continue to work to build his Church with such a history of failings on the part of the laity, various priests, bishops, and even popes, surely this Church must be sustained by God himself. . .

By that logic, (and I’ve seen it several times at CTC in the comm box — this must be the true church because it is so flawed), Protestantism wins the argument. What, with 40k denominations, our fractured state has to be evidence that God is at work among us. You know, you will know them not by their love but by their errors and divisions?

But even then, Lim cannot avoid appealing to history:

. . . despite the passage of over two millennia, the Church continues to hold and to teach in substance what it has always held and taught. Unlike much of Protestantism which no longer believes what even the magisterial Reformers once held to be fundamental tenets of the faith (Trinity, inerrancy, etc.), the Catholic Church remains unmoved, not by virtue of her own strength, but by virtue of the grace of the Holy Spirit preserving the Church.

I understand the appeal of wanting to have it both ways — appeal to history but no responsibility for historical claims. But I had not heard that Rome’s authority extended to re-writing maxims that say you can’t.

Following Francis

If the pope is unwilling to pass judgment on others, why haven’t Jason and the Callers adopted the same stance? They might want to consider this:

Francis’ emphasis on mercy is nearly ubiquitous. In a recent essay for the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Enzo Bianchi, founder of the celebrated ecumenical monastery of Bose, offered a statistical analysis of the words used most frequently by Francis since his election. He found that the single most commonly used term was “joy,” more than a hundred times, followed closely by “mercy,” which the pope has used almost a hundred times.

This conviction that we are living in a kairos of mercy makes sense of everything else the pope said on the plane and, for that matter, most of what he’s said and done since his election in March.

It explains his unwillingness to pass judgment on gays, and it also explains his refusal to be drawn into a political diatribe when a Brazilian journalist asked him about recent laws in the country liberalizing abortion and permitting same-sex marriage. Asked why he didn’t address those issues during his trip, the pope said, “It wasn’t necessary to speak of them, but of the positive things that get young people going. Anyway, young people know perfectly well what the position of the church is.”

Pressed for his personal conviction, Francis didn’t duck: “That of the church. … I’m a son of the church.”

There you have it in a nutshell. Francis is no doctrinal radical, and there will likely be no substantive upheaval of the church’s positions on issues of gender and sex or anything else. On the one specific question Francis fielded along these lines, women’s ordination, he reaffirmed “that door is closed.”

The revolution under Francis is not one of content, but of tone. He believes it’s time for the church to lift up its merciful face to the world, in part because of its own self-inflicted wounds and in part because of the harsh and unforgiving temper of the times. This is a pope who will look for every chance to express compassion, steering clear of finger-wagging unless it’s absolutely necessary.