I sure do hope that charge in the comm box does not mean that I am incapable of putting together thoughts that will at least allow me to purchase food for the cats (down to one feline inside, but the cats in the hood have found our back door to be bounteous). Jason Stellman doesn’t appreciate my bringing up unpleasant parts of Roman Catholic history. He also thinks I misrepresent his position on the nature of the papacy.
On the former, I understand the discomfort of having to answer for historical events you may not have known about. But if you want to play fair while making a case for the superiority of Rome, then you need to do something with the less than desirable parts of Rome’s existence.
On the latter, I don’t think Jason’s position is all that complicated. The Jason-and-the-Caller line is that Protestantism cannot settle its diversity because it has no infallible or authoritative mechanism. In other words, Protestants don’t have a pope or magisterium. Got it. So Jason thinks he has overcome the dilemmas he faced while considering the relative claims of Protestantism and Roman Catholicism on Scripture and church authority.
But by siding with the papacy and the theory of an infallible successor to the apostles in the eternal city, Jason did not seem to see where that decision put him. On the one hand, he seems to want a papacy that only orders the confusion that afflicts Protestantism. He doesn’t apparently want a papacy whose authority will extend to these proportions — as the cohesive not only for the church but for all of European society and possibly the world:
4. And, since where religion has been removed from civil society, and the doctrine and authority of divine revelation repudiated, the genuine notion itself of justice and human right is darkened and lost, and the place of true justice and legitimate right is supplied by material force, thence it appears why it is that some, utterly neglecting and disregarding the surest principles of sound reason, dare to proclaim that “the people’s will, manifested by what is called public opinion or in some other way, constitutes a supreme law, free from all divine and human control; and that in the political order accomplished facts, from the very circumstance that they are accomplished, have the force of right.” But who, does not see and clearly perceive that human society, when set loose from the bonds of religion and true justice, can have, in truth, no other end than the purpose of obtaining and amassing wealth, and that (society under such circumstances) follows no other law in its actions, except the unchastened desire of ministering to its own pleasure and interests? For this reason, men of the kind pursue with bitter hatred the Religious Orders, although these have deserved extremely well of Christendom, civilization and literature, and cry out that the same have no legitimate reason for being permitted to exist; and thus (these evil men) applaud the calumnies of heretics. For, as Pius VI, Our Predecessor, taught most wisely, “the abolition of regulars is injurious to that state in which the Evangelical counsels are openly professed; it is injurious to a method of life praised in the Church as agreeable to Apostolic doctrine; it is injurious to the illustrious founders, themselves, whom we venerate on our altars, who did not establish these societies but by God’s inspiration.”5 And (these wretches) also impiously declare that permission should be refused to citizens and to the Church, “whereby they may openly give alms for the sake of Christian charity”; and that the law should be abrogated “whereby on certain fixed days servile works are prohibited because of God’s worship;” and on the most deceptive pretext that the said permission and law are opposed to the principles of the best public economy. Moreover, not content with removing religion from public society, they wish to banish it also from private families. For, teaching and professing the most fatal error of “Communism and Socialism,” they assert that “domestic society or the family derives the whole principle of its existence from the civil law alone; and, consequently, that on civil law alone depend all rights of parents over their children, and especially that of providing for education.” By which impious opinions and machinations these most deceitful men chiefly aim at this result, viz., that the salutary teaching and influence of the Catholic Church may be entirely banished from the instruction and education of youth, and that the tender and flexible minds of young men may be infected and depraved by every most pernicious error and vice. For all who have endeavored to throw into confusion things both sacred and secular, and to subvert the right order of society, and to abolish all rights, human and divine, have always (as we above hinted) devoted all their nefarious schemes, devices and efforts, to deceiving and depraving incautious youth and have placed all their hope in its corruption. For which reason they never cease by every wicked method to assail the clergy, both secular and regular, from whom (as the surest monuments of history conspicuously attest), so many great advantages have abundantly flowed to Christianity, civilization and literature, and to proclaim that “the clergy, as being hostile to the true and beneficial advance of science and civilization, should be removed from the whole charge and duty of instructing and educating youth.”
So, without a rightly ordered society in which the church stands at the head (and we know who stands at the head of the visible church), we have only ruin and turmoil.
That is why the church needs to continue to assert its authority:
8. Therefore, in this our letter, we again most lovingly address you, who, having been called unto a part of our solicitude, are to us, among our grievous distresses, the greatest solace, joy and consolation, because of the admirable religion and piety wherein you excel, and because of that marvellous love, fidelity, and dutifulness, whereby bound as you are to us. and to this Apostolic See in most harmonious affection, you strive strenuously and sedulously to fulfill your most weighty episcopal ministry. For from your signal pastoral zeal we expect that, taking up the sword of the spirit which is the word of God, and strengthened by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, you will, with redoubled care, each day more anxiously provide that the faithful entrusted to your charge “abstain from noxious verbiage, which Jesus Christ does not cultivate because it is not His Father’s plantation.”7 Never cease also to inculcate on the said faithful that all true felicity flows abundantly upon man from our august religion and its doctrine and practice; and that happy is the people whose God is their Lord.8 Teach that “kingdoms rest on the foundation of the Catholic Faith;9 and that nothing is so deadly, so hastening to a fall, so exposed to all danger, (as that which exists) if, believing this alone to be sufficient for us that we receive free will at our birth, we seek nothing further from the Lord; that is, if forgetting our Creator we abjure his power that we may display our freedom.”10 And again do not fail to teach “that the royal power was given not only for the governance of the world, but most of all for the protection of the Church;”11 and that there is nothing which can be of greater advantage and glory to Princes and Kings than if, as another most wise and courageous Predecessor of ours, St. Felix, instructed the Emperor Zeno, they “permit the Catholic Church to practise her laws, and allow no one to oppose her liberty. For it is certain that this mode of conduct is beneficial to their interests, viz., that where there is question concerning the causes of God, they study, according to His appointment, to subject the royal will to Christ’s Priests, not to raise it above theirs.”12
Jason may not realize it, but his church once thought that the health of Europe depended on the papacy’s authority. This was not simply a question of restoring the unity of the church in its teachings and practices (spiritual). This was the protection of Christendom (temporal). In other words, the papacy Jason backs is the one that followed for the better part of a millennium the Christ-the-transformer-of-culture model (not the exilic, pilgrim model he once advocated).
But times are different (though John Paul II and Benedict XVI did a lot of speaking about Europe’s intellectual and moral crises). The papacy does not have the power it once had, whether because it lost is temporal power or simply owing to turf battles within the church. Nor does the church Jason picked have the clarity that it once did. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church is facing a crisis of authority (even if you’d never hear that from Jason and the Callers). Here is how one of the contributors to The Crisis of Authority in Catholic Modernity put it:
A second important difference from the Leonine church is evident in the [Second Vatican] council’s opening to the ecumenical and interfaith relations and with it the continued softening of the traditional belief that there is no salvation outside the church. If that doctrine suggested service to a jealous God, trimming it suggests an appropriate emerging sense of theological and historical humility. For Leo, it was fundamental that “those who refuse to enter the perfect society or leave it are separated forever from life eternal.” In the Decree on Ecumenism (1964), on the other hand, heretics and schismatics have become “separated brethren.” They “have a right to be called Christians and with good reason” to be “accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.” While all the elements necessary for salvation are said to “subsist” in their “fullness” in the Catholic Church, “which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic,” it is nevertheless true, according to Lumen Gentium, that “many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside its visible confines.” In other words, there is no sacred monopoly on holiness and truth, a teaching that Leo would have regarded as undermining the basic mission of the church. As Karl Rahner made the point, there has been a growing recognition that “many whom God has, the Church does not have; and many whom the Church has, God does not have.”
The transforming response to the new universalism is evident here as well. The late Avery Cardinal Dulles concluded a recent review of the development of church teaching on the question of who can be saved with these observations: “Catholics can be saved if they believe the Word of God as taught by the Church and if they obey the commandments. Other Christians can be saved if they submit their lives to Christ and join the community where they think he wills to be found. Jews can be saved if they look forward in hope to the Messiah and try to ascertain whether God’s promise has been fulfilled. Adherents of other religions can be saved if, with the help of grace, they sincerely seek God and strive to do his will. Even atheists can be saved if they worship God under some other name and place their lives at the service of truth and justice. God’s saving grace, channeled through Christ the one Mediator, leaves no one unassisted.” Theologically speaking, while Dulles holds that all grace is mediated through the one, triune God, he does not insist, as Leo felt he had to do, that is it mediated exclusively through the one true church. The post conciliar church reads history and culture differently from the way the Leonine church read them. (79-80)
And they tell us there is one holy catholic and apostolic paradigm.
So the problem, and I apologize for sounding condescending, is that Jason has bitten off more than he can chew by arguing for the superiority of Rome’s ecclesiology to Protestantism’s. If he wants a magisterium that can objectively and authoritatively settle disputes in the church, he is going to get a church that also condemns all aspects of modernity as 19th century popes did because those aspects of modern life were creating disputes within the church and hurting the souls of believers. If Jason wants a spirituality of the church papacy, he is not going to find it (until the recent post-Vatican II past) because the spiritual weight of the papacy was always at odds with creating space for the political apart from the faith (which is why it took until Vatican II for Rome to embrace religious freedom and separation of church and state). In other words, a papacy with the kind of clout that would reign in the faithful with denunciations of Americanism and Modernism was also a papacy intent on asserting or recovering its temporal power (because temporal power gave the church freedom to assert its spiritual authority).
But then when Jason finds out that he does have a spirituality of the church papacy in the post-Vatican II era, he gains a church where popes are still echoing their older temporal power through various “social teachings” while also following a theological proposal like Dulles’ where the church sounds like it would have trouble settling basic theological conflicts (which may explain why so many conservative Roman Catholics associate orthodoxy with a male priesthood and not using contraceptives). In other words, he now has a crisis of authority that makes dispute between Baptists and Presbyterians look like sandbox rivals fighting over a scoop.
So when Jason left Protestantism thinking he had left behind its problems, my sense is that he did not realize just how big the problems were in his new communion. Roman Catholicism’s crisis of authority — going all the way back to Gregory VII’s battles with Henry, through the Avignon papacy and conciliarism, to the nineteenth-century controversies over the Papal States and Rome’s standing among Europe’s ruling class, down to Vatican II and its effort to appropriate communio ecclesiology — is the ecclesiastical equivalent of the earthquakes that erupt from the movement of earth’s tectonic plates. Jason entered a conflict almost a millennium old. If he understood that, he might not be so quick in his assertions of superiority or his claims that his critics “don’t understand.”