Jesus Only Christianity

Since a new set of interlocutors has emerged of late I am going to persist with a contrast between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism that seems to be fairly crucial for considering the Reformation — namely, what to do about Mary. May seems to the month of our Lord’s mother, hence a number of posts at National Catholic Register (see what EWTN did there?) about Mary. To contrast the liturgical and national calendars, please keep in mind that for Americans May is Asian Pacific Heritage Month.)

Mark Shea persists with a defense of Mary’s immaculate conception and concludes that the church arrived at a two-fold doctrine of salvation (and we’re not even talking about God’s covenant with Jews — though since Mary was Jewish, I guess we are):

Jesus saves from sin in two ways just as a doctor saves from sickness in two ways: cure and prevention. Mary was prevented from contracting original sin in the moment of her conception by a singular act of grace through Christ. In her, we see, not the absence of Christ’s saving grace, but its fullest expression. Hence, she is “full of grace” and praises “God my savior” (Luke 1:47).

For confessional Protestants, that seems like a stretch since we believe in only one mediator between God and man. This implies that some persons can have a different relationship with God. If one has a unique relationship with God, why not a lot more? Why didn’t God simply reboot after Adam’s sin and “prevent” Cain and Abel from sinning?

Meanwhile, Dwight Longenecker tries to explain why Mary as Mediatrix or Co-Redemptrix is not an offense but affirms the sole mediation of Christ:

Once we have recognized that Mary suffered with Jesus we should take a moment to try to understand the depth of that identification with her son. Remember she is linked with her son like no other Mother and her son is like no other Son. How often have we seen and experienced the deep identification between a mother and her child? The child suffers at school. Mama bear steps in for she has suffered too. The child experiences hardship and tears. The mother’s heart is broken too. Only when we understand the depth of Mary’s suffering and the depth of her unique identification with her son will we begin to understand the Catholic doctrines of Co-Redeemer and Mediatrix.

We should be clear that we are not saying that Jesus’ work of redemption on the cross was in some way insufficient. Neither is his work as mediator between God and Man inadequate. We acknowledge that his redemptive suffering on the cross was full and final and totally sufficient. We acknowledge that he is the only saving mediator between God and Man. So what do we mean with these titles for Mary?

What we mean is that she participates in the full, final, sufficient and unique work of Christ on the cross for the salvation of the world. She walks beside him and through his work she joins in that work. It is like Christ’s love and sacrifice is a fast flowing river, but Mary swims in the current of that river. Her work is dependent on his work. Her participation and co-operation could not happen without his work going before and enabling all that she does.

But again the question arises, why single out Mary? Aren’t all believers united to Christ? Don’t we all swim in the current of his work? And wouldn’t it be fair to say after a reading of the New Testament that the apostles (and prophets before them) participated much more directly in Christ’s work than Mary (who is on the sidelines for most narratives)? Why not at least call Peter a Co-Redemptrix? He is after all the original Vicar of Christ. And why appeal to a special relationship between mother and child when Christ himself said that his followers bore a special relationship to himself in ways that were closer than blood relations (“Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, ‘Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.’ But he answered them, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it'” [Luke 8:19-21].)

The point here though has less to do with some of the questions that Longenecker and Shea raise (even as they try to answer objections). It is instead this: what would Christianity lose if Mary was not understood the way these apologists conceive her? Would Christianity be somehow deficient without the immaculate conception or Mary as co-redemptrix?

Simplicity is not always a good thing. But one way of reading the Reformation is as an effort to remove the clutter that had accumulated after a millennium of passing on the faith. Anyone who has changed residences knows the unenviable task of deciding what to do with the basement. Reformers did just that with the western church in the sixteenth century. Some might argue that they donated too many boxes with useful items to United European Charities, Inc. But if Longenecker really does affirm that Christ’s work was sufficient in and of itself (along with Christ’s Spirit, of course), why the attachment to Mary? What does her uniqueness profit the gospel or the Christian religion more generally?

And if Protestantism is really about trying to exalt the work of Christ — and doesn’t mind stepping on traditions that get in the way of seeing Christ’s sufficiency — why would it generate the hostility that it did from Rome?

Higher Christian Living

Once a person converts to follow Jesus, he or she confronts a number of options for living at a higher spiritual pitch. For Protestants the options run the gamut from the second helping of grace that comes with Holy Spirit baptism to the comprehensive alertness that w-w Protestants promote. Often overlooked in the devotional plans that take you from Christianity 1.0 to Genuine Christianity 2.0 is the contribution of converts to Roman Catholicism.

Mark Shea shows the way:

I was raised Nothing-in-Particular (with a cloudy pagan regard for “the spiritual” and a deep disdain of “organized religion”). Then, at the age of 20, I had a sort of classic “born again” experience after an encounter with the living God revealed in Jesus Christ. Looking around me, I found that the people who had introduced me to Jesus were the non-denominational Evangelicals and charismatics on my dorm floor at the University of Washington. Therefore, putting two and two together, I concluded that this was the Christian community God had given me and that it was my task to learn from them, love them, and receive the love of God through them.

So learn from them I did. I became a member of this community (which eventually coalesced into a small church in North Seattle) and I learned the basics of the Christian faith-trust, prayer, love, good works, fellowship, discipleship, Scripture study-in this place. I regard this time with them as my personal “Old Testament”: that period of preparation for the full reception of Christ which was to come when I became a Catholic.

I think the “Old Testament” metaphor for my time as an Evangelical is apt because I don’t believe for a moment that it was an accident God introduced me to his Son through Evangelicalism any more than I believe it an accident that the whole history of Israel was the preparation for the Advent of Christ. Again and again, I found that things in my own Evangelical background anticipated the teaching of the Catholic Church and the Christ who is fully revealed there just as the teaching of the Old Testament anticipated the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of Christ. So I am deeply grateful for my time as an Evangelical and regard the good things God gave me through that Tradition as very properly Catholic.

No mention here of the sins involved in belonging to a church not in fellowship with the Bishop of Rome or the mortal sin of disobeying the magisterium. Shea was a Christian, had gone from darkness to light, and had found Christ among Protestants.

Why on earth would Rome have ever anathematized Protestants or their teaching?

Shrugged and Always Shrugging

One shrug:

One of the most common takeaways from Synod 2015 is that it revealed deep “divisions” within the Catholic Church. While I will suggest that “divisions” is too strong a word, no one can deny that Synod 2015 demonstrated the existence of strong theological tensions within the body of Catholic bishops, and that this in turn points to disturbingly pronounced and conflicting conceptions within the Catholic faithful of what Catholic belief and practice is or ought to be. What did the evident tensions at Synod 2015 mean for the Church? What does the reality of ever more diverse and conflictive creedal alignments among the baptized mean, particularly for the Church in the US? Herewith, I offer some thoughts on both questions. . . .

[W]e can say here that we have come with some confidence to believe that a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually only tenuously Christian in any sense that is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition, but has rather substantially morphed into Christianity’s misbegotten step-cousin, Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. This has happened in the minds and hearts of many individual believers, and, it also appears, within the structures of at least some Christian organizations and institutions. The language, and therefore experience, of Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church, Eucharist, and heaven and hell appear… to be supplanted by the language of happiness, niceness, and an earned heavenly reward. It is not so much that U.S. Christianity is being secularized. Rather, more subtly, Christianity is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith.

Now, replace “Christianity” with “Catholicism” and “Christian” with “Catholic” in that paragraph, and I would suggest this describes the essential creed of thousands of American Catholics.

Such then is the complexity of our Church in the United States. As members of that Body, particularly as ministers, catechists, pastors and evangelists, we simply must understand—with serenity and faith—that this complexity generates tensions, and those tensions will likely continue to characterize the Church in the US for decades to come.

One might be tempted to ask whether we as a Church are not on the cusp of going the way of Judaism—as recently suggested by Daniel McGuire—a religion with “branches”—orthodox, conservative and reform. Do we today have “branches of Catholicism” in the Church? I think not. But tensions we do have, because Catholics embrace conflicting and even incompatible creedal commitments.

What to make of all this? Shall we despair? Shall orthodox Catholics allow themselves to be overcome by a bunker mentality—all the rest be damned? If we have taken it to heart that “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,” then most assuredly, no. Rather, beyond the synods and beyond the tensions, let’s keep our focus on living a robust, orthodox and joyful Catholic faith—extending to our Catholic brothers and sisters who have yet to experience it, the means and opportunities for a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Let’s do that with trust in the transforming power of his grace, the inscrutable depths of his Divine Mercy, and the sanctifying action of his Holy Spirit.

Two shrugs:

One of the most troubling things about American Catholics is their tendency to go off the deep end.

Conservative Catholics who are upset about the condition of the church and think Pope Francis is evil incarnate seem to be proliferating. . . .

I would therefore recommend to any Catholics who are in turmoil because the present pope isn’t to their liking or their church is not what they want or their bishop unsatisfactory to read some church history. Eamonn Duffy’s history of the papacy Saints and Sinners is a good one. When you read history of the church you’ll realize that turmoil and trouble have been with us since the time of the apostles. Might as well get used to it.

Does that mean you shouldn’t be upset or worried? No. Does that mean one should be complacent about heresy, corruption within and persecution from without? No. Be worried. That’s okay if it leads you to pray more.

What is troublesome is how much time people spend biting their nails and grumbling and posting angry blog articles or getting all worked up into a tizzy about stuff they can’t really do much about anyway.

This is one of the reasons I’ve started my new blog The Suburban Hermit –to get people to spend some time away from the church politics headlines, away from the head banging and nail biting and to try to build their life with Christ and deepen their life of prayer.

More time in work, prayer and reading (the Benedictine formula) will bring stability to your life. You’ll come to realize again, but at a heart level, that God is in charge. He loves his church. Everything will be all right in the end, and you can breathe easy.

Three shrugs:

You are worried about phantoms. The Church cannot alter the sacraments. The most that may happen is that the Church will face the fact that Caesar has decided to pretend that there is such a thing as gay marriage and that people involved in such arrangements require some form of pastoral care. Would you rather the Church simply reject them and their children? Christ comes to call not the righteous, but sinners. So that’s not an option. The desire of some Catholics to cut people off from the very opportunity of grace is as old as Donatism. The Church as a fortress and an engine of vengeance is not the gospel. She is bound to seek the lost.

Part of the problem is that people have no idea what this Synod is about. It is, like all conciliar actions, a time when the Church “holds herself in suspense” as Bp. Robert Barron puts it, and makes up her mind about things. It is supposed to hear from all sides so that it can sift wheat from chaff. The pope did something similar when drafting Humanae Vitae, consulting theologians who urged him to ditch the Church’s ancient tradition about artificial contraception. He declined to do so.

What this come down to is a test of your trust, not in Francis, but in Jesus Christ’s promise that the Holy Spirit will guide the Church into all truth. It is He, not Francis, who is the soul of the Church.

With that kind of resolve, faith, and hope, you’d have thought these folks could have overlooked all of Protestantism’s woes. But Protestantism is not the New York Yankees of Western Christianity.

The Gospel According to Mark

No Mary immaculately conceived, no gospel:

In light of the Incarnation, it is profoundly mistaken to think that humanity is necessarily or naturally sinful. It isn’t. Sin is normal, but never natural. Nature is not corrupt; corruption is corrupt. Sin is precisely what is contrary to our human nature. It is damage to nature, not nature itself, which constitutes sin. Thus, sin (which we all inherit in Adam) is always a warping and a deformation of our nature. In Christian understanding, nature is essentially good since it and grace (not sin) have the same author: God. Grace does not build on sin. It heals sin, eradicates sin, repairs the effects of sin, forgives sin. When that process is complete (as it shall be for the saints in heaven) those saints shall no longer be afflicted by sin in any way. That would be impossible if sin and humanness were identical.

Very well then, if there is nothing intrinsically impossible with the idea of sinless humanness in heaven for people who don’t happen to be Jesus, there is also nothing intrinsically impossible with Mary is being preserved from sin right here on earth by the same God who gets people to heaven. It is true that, apart from the authority of the church, there is no way we could know this about Mary. But then again, apart from the authority of the church, there is no way we would know that the Holy Spirit is God either. All that means is that Scripture is intended to be read in light of the full teaching of the church. When we do, we find that to deny the sinlessness of Mary on the mere ground that she’s human and therefore must be sinful has the surprising effect of messing up our understanding of the Incarnation.

And there is an understandable reason for that. Mary is the source of the Incarnation. Christianity is not merely a religion of the word. It is a relationship with the Word made flesh. But the Word gets his flesh from somewhere. All Christians believe in the blood of Christ shed on the cross. But God the Son, in his divine nature, had no blood to shed till the received it in purity from his mother. No Mary, no Incarnation; no Incarnation, no death on the cross; no death on the cross, no resurrection; no resurrection, no salvation for the world. Get rid of Mary and you don’t get a purified faith: you get nothing. That is the consequence of overlooking this often neglected truth.

Well, isn’t it profoundly correct to think of humanity as necessarily sinful in the light of THE FALL? Why would the Son of God become incarnate if not to redeem sinners. Plus, I was under the impression that sin a violation of God’s law. Eating a piece of fruit is natural, after all.

Post-fall, sinless humans occupying heaven is impossible without grace and forgiveness. Using the possibility of sinless humans going to heaven as the grounds for Mary’s sinfulness seems like a real groin-tearing stretch.

And if Mary needs to be sinless to bear Christ, then what about Mary’s mother needing to be sinless to bear Mary? And what about Mary’s grandmother to bear Mary’s mother? You see where this is going — thanks to the fall, which you don’t apparently see.

But if you insist that we would not have Christianity without Mary, then why did Anselm (a saint by both your and my standards) instead of writing Cur Deus Homo not write Why Mary Conceived without Sin? (Sorry my Latin is rusty.)

One last question: how much theology do you possibly need to be ignorant of to find your apologetics compelling? (So many Marks, so little time.)

Set Your Sights Even Higher

Forget about trying to be Jesus. Now be creator.

. . . teaching our children how to cooperate with God in the work of creation is a perfectly fitting job for us as Catholic parents.

Genesis points out five tasks given the human race in the Garden: marriage, fruitfulness, rule, work, and worship. In all these tasks, we become more fully human and, for the baptized, become more profound participants in the life of the Blessed Trinity through Christ. Let’s look at them briefly.

Hasn’t Mark read his catechism? Every Western Christian knows the difference between creation and providence:

315 In the creation of the world and of man, God gave the first and universal witness to his almighty love and his wisdom, the first proclamation of the “plan of his loving goodness”, which finds its goal in the new creation in Christ.

316 Though the work of creation is attributed to the Father in particular, it is equally a truth of faith that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit together are the one, indivisible principle of creation.

317 God alone created the universe, freely, directly and without any help.

318 No creature has the infinite power necessary to “create” in the proper sense of the word, that is, to produce and give being to that which had in no way possessed it (to call into existence “out of nothing”) (cf DS 3624).

319 God created the world to show forth and communicate his glory. That his creatures should share in his truth, goodness and beauty – this is the glory for which God created them.

320 God created the universe and keeps it in existence by his Word, the Son “upholding the universe by his word of power” (Heb 1:3), and by his Creator Spirit, the giver of life.

321 Divine providence consists of the dispositions by which God guides all his creatures with wisdom and love to their ultimate end.

322 Christ invites us to filial trust in the providence of our heavenly Father (cf. Mt 6:26-34), and St. Peter the apostle repeats: “Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you” (I Pt 5:7; cf. Ps 55:23).

323 Divine providence works also through the actions of creatures. To human beings God grants the ability to cooperate freely with his plans.

But when you give them an inch a co-mediatrix, they take a mile a co-creator.

Teach Us To Number Our Commandments

Cardinal Dolan thinks Roman Catholics and American culture need to recover biblical teaching on sex (finally a bishop other than the Roman one):

We rarely, if ever, speak about it. (Just ask Pope Francis! Did you see that, on his flight to Asia last week, a journalist asked him if he would condemn contraception. He replied, “Why are you always asking about that?”)

I’m not proud about the fact that we rarely speak about the sixth and ninth commandment. Why don’t we? One reason might be that, decades ago, we probably did speak way too much about it. A second might be that it’s so controversial. And a third is that we’re still so embarrassed by the sex abuse scandal that we’re gun-shy. . . .

one of our most pointed challenges, as a Church, and, for that matter, as a culture, is to regain the high ground on the nobility of God’s design, to present it credibly and fresh to ourselves, one another, and a society that has reduced sex to culture’s most popular contact sport.

Do the captains of Team Religion in America recognize that players on the team don’t even follow the same play book when it comes to counting the Decalogue?

And does the good Cardinal not see that by blurring church folks and Americans Team Religion has compromised the discipline of the Team’s players? Maybe if all churches worried more about their own members and less about the “other kind” of Americans, the results would lift the boats of the whole nation.

Postscript: meanwhile, Boniface detects in certain apologists — ahem, Mark Shea, who swims in the same hip Northwest culture that Jason and Christian (without the Callers) do — the difficulty the fellows with all the apostolic authority face even from some of their most enthusiastic supporters:

. . . this thread demonstrates some inherent problems in the neo-Cath position: To what degree will we see that alleged orthodoxy to the Church is really just a matter of supporting what is viewed as “current policy”? Is there not a problem with viewing a perennial discipline as merely “policy”? Is not the value of discipline and tradition severely downgraded. if so? And if these sorts of matters are simply the “current policy” that can change the way it changes with each American presidential administration, what tools does the Church really have to ensure discipline and continuity in the long run?

Ultimately, the neo-Cath strategy is to insist loudly that certain things can never be changed so long as the current Pontiff does not want to change them; then, when the “policy” changes with another pontiff, suggest just as loudly that such matters were never immune from change to begin with. I’m not suggesting the practical question of whether or not to admit persons with deep-seated homosexuality to the seminary is a doctrinal question or that infallibility is on the line here; I am suggesting that reasoning that the Church’s very old discipline on this matter (it goes back to Trent and before) can be seen as merely “current policy” is destructively reductionist.

Sola Christus

Mark Shea channels his former Protestant self:

December is the month of Advent and Advent is about not just the First Advent at Christmas but the Second Advent on the Last Day. Accordingly, it confronts us with the reality of Judgment.

Lots of folks wonder how to get ready for the Last Judgment. Everything in your life and mine, as well as in all the rest of the Universe, is moving inexorably toward That Day. Yet when we look at the saints, we find some remarkably unconventional advice. St. Therese of Lisieux, for instance, when asked what she would do if you knew the world was about to end, said, “I would have confidence.”

The question, of course, is “In what would she have confidence?” and the answer was light years from what our culture places its trust in.

After all, consider: When some inspirational Oprah video smears the air with a schmaltzy soundtrack and we are breathily invited to “Believe” what instantly follows that word?

“…in yourself!” Again and again, when our culture talks about “confidence” what it invariably means is “self-confidence”. Our kids are, likewise, constantly taught to “believe in themselves” and “feel good about themselves”.

For Therese, all this self-help prattle was nonsense. For her, the only place for confidence was Jesus Christ. She knew herself as a sinner, so she simply threw herself into his arms like a child knowing that, while she could never get to heaven on her own steam, she could not fail to get there if he carried her.

This sort of Christian trust is (to a person like Therese) simplicity itself. To people like you and me, maybe not so much. We can play games. We can, for instance, tell ourselves “So long as I am doing good things in Department X of my life, God will forgive all the bad stuff I’m doing in Department Y.”

This is the trick that Jesus warns against when he tells us:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

So what’s up with all the clutter?

You Don't Protest Enough

Mark Shea explains unintentionally why attention to the forensic aspect of salvation is so important and why efforts to downplay that importance by elevating sanctification need great carefulness:

What then does the word “merit” mean in 1990s terminology? In the words of one of the foremost Catholic theologians of the 20th Century (Hans Urs Von Balthasar), the best modern equivalent for what the medieval and renaissance Church meant by merit is “fruitfulness.” (A term Evangelicals are abundantly familiar with from John 15 and other Scriptures.) Now “fruitfulness” (as all Evangelicals know) refers to the outworking of God’s grace in our lives, both in changing us into the image of Christ and in “bearing fruit for the Kingdom” by, say, winning hearts for Christ, feeding the hungry, caring for the needy, etc. None of this (as I learned long ago in Evangelicaldom) is “works salvation” but is simply the way in which we participate in the divine life, go “from glory to glory” and cooperate with the sanctifying power of Christ. With that in mind, let’s now look at the Trent quote above and see what we can make of it.

The Council says that “the gifts of God are also the good merits of him justified.” Is this saying “Salvation means God does half and we do half?” No. It is saying something far more radical. It is saying that God does it all and we do it all. Following Paul (who urged the Philippians to “work our your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose”), the Council asserts that the fruit borne by the believer is real fruit which is really and truly given by God and therefore really and truly a part of the believer’s life. Instead of seeing salvation as “snow on a dunghill” (a mere legal decree of righteousness which gets us to heaven yet which leaves us unchanged in our inner being), the Council sees salvation as a process which really changes us in our inner being and conforms us to the image of Christ.

If the Obedience Boys, then, are going to talk about what we do in sanctification or encourage us to look to our works for some measure of assurance, they should understand that those who still protest (read Protestants) don’t want a return to Trent:

Trent, then, insists that salvation is incarnational. Just as the Word is made flesh, so (in us) grace is enfleshed in real, solid, tangible change and the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). For the very essence of the saving gospel is that it is to really bear fruit in our lives and become kneaded into our full humanity. Thus, what the Council means is that our good fruit (or merits in 16th Century speak) really are ours as well as God’s great gift. When we, under grace, do a good thing it is really we who do it… because God willed that we do it. (A truth my Evangelical friends believe as much as Trent–when they are not arguing against Rome.)

I don’t know about you (or what tune you use), but I’m not sure how those who put sanctification on a par with justification sing “Rock of Ages” in a good conscience:

Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me, Savior, or I die.

At Least It's Not 30,000

Michael Sean Winters is following the meeting of the U.S. Roman Catholic bishops in Baltimore this week and he — echoing Machen — thinks the church is really two:

If I may borrow Cardinal Dolan’s metaphor, there are two Catholic Churches in the U.S. today. One Church is thrilled by Pope Francis, glad not to feel that everything is their fault, happy that they no longer feel the lash of judgment because they cannot measure up to the moral standards articulated by certain conservative commentators, delighted to know that it is OK not to be obsessed exclusively by certain issues, even — what was unimaginable for most just a short time ago — proud to be Catholic again.

The other Church is meeting in the ballroom in Baltimore this week. There is no excitement. The agenda is very pre-“VatiLeaks”. The obsession with abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage rolls on in dreary predictability. Everyone is “in a state of agreement, or silent in a false and quietist peace,” the very thing Pope Francis said would have worried him if it had characterized the recent synod. It characterizes the meeting of the USCCB so far. It is bizarre to me that the encomiums to Pope Francis are formulaic at best or absent entirely. So far as the public discussions go, you would not know that this is an interesting, let alone exciting, time to be a Catholic. The whole world knows. The cat is out of the bag. And the bishops seem to be asking, “What is a cat?”

I understand some might think quoting Winters is dirty pool, but when did Roman Catholics adopt the Puritan sensibility of the pure church, as if Winters has no right to think like a Roman Catholic?

This post coincides with a revelation about another church within the church. This one is the world of Roman Catholic apologists. Mark Shea describes the rise of Roman Catholic apologetics and links it to a perceived deficiency in the church at the time:

I’m glad of the boomlet in apologetics that has happened since the 80s. It began, almost single-handedly at first, through the efforts of Karl Keating and the good people at Catholic Answers. For some reason, apologetics had become a dirty word after the Council, with the predictable effect that Catholics soon lost the ability to articulate what they believed and why. When I was coming into the Church, it was like pulling teeth to find an RCIA group that would, like, tell me what Church taught instead of reflexively obeying the impulse to just affirm me in my okayness. Karl Keating, more than any other figure in the 80s, is the guy who took action to turn that trend around. And (I strongly suspect) no small reason for the resulting resurgence of apologetics was due to the relief Catholics felt after years of hearing what fools they were for believing the Faith and having few tools other than a gut feeling to counter these charges. . . . There was a rising flood of Evangelical converts and, as Evangelicals do, they started trying to articulate what they had done and why for the benefit of those they had left behind. Evangelicals have a bred-in-the-bone sense that, “If you can’t verbalize your faith, then there’s some doubt as to whether you really know what it is.” So we started writing the books and making the tapes that filled that Catholic book table by 1998. And, as we were doing this, we slowly started looking around and realizing to our surprise that we weren’t alone–usually well after our entry into communion with Rome. In fact, it was not until the early 90s, that I discovered people like Hahn, David Currie, Akin, Rosalind Moss and the whole current crop of Evangelical converts existed. The experience was similar for a lot of First Wavers. We thought we’d pretty much stepped out of Evangelicalism into the Incalculable Catholic Abyss, and to our astonishment there were all these other Evangelical converts! Result: The First Wave started “networking” just as a Second Wave (who read our books and listened to our tapes) were persuaded and started to convert too.

But the problem with these apologists is that they may be doing work that is properly reserved for the bishops. Shea admits:

I have found that, in an era where laity have been taught to mistrust their bishops–not only by the media and the culture, but by the shocking incompetence and perfidy of the bishops themselves in the abuse scandal–it’s very easy for laity to hive off and anoint new ersatz Magisteria in the form of whatever faction they happen to fancy. For some, the New Magisterium is the advocates for women priests. For others, it’s Catholics for a Free Choice. For still others, it’s whatever Richard McBrien says is the consensus of Thinking Catholics in the Academy. For some, it’s Dan Brown.

But for not a few in the apologetics subculture, it’s what I or Scott Hahn or [insert favorite apologist] thinks about X, Y and Z. And that’s a very dangerous thing to do, because we apologists are not protected by the charism of infallibility in the slightest.

I have long wondered about the various cultures in the U.S. Roman Catholic Church and how the apologetic world is dominated by the laity. Why aren’t the bishops doing this? Archbishop Fulton Sheen was a popular bishop who did a form of defending the faith, but his existentially inclined faith was a long way from the textbook approach that dominates the popular apologetic front.

So to correct Winter’s observation, not two churches but three (maybe four if you count Jason and the Callers).

The Queue Is Long

I have written several posts here about Jason and the Callers’ apparent ignorance of the regular Roman Catholic world (as opposed to their knowledge of Denzinger). I now understand that the trail of Protestant-turned-Roman-Catholic apologists is as long as the Phillies are behind the Nationals. For instance, Patrick Madrid has made a cottage industry in the publishing world of what Bryan Cross has done with the testimonies at Called To Communion.

But Mark Shea’s recent interview in America reveals how long, how American and how unremarkable to the papacy that line of convert-turned-apologist-and-blogger is:

Other people call me that, but I don’t think of myself as an apologist. Catholic apologetics in our culture is often addressed to Protestant evangelicals, where a lot of people from a Protestant background like Scott Hahn, Jimmy Akin and Steve Ray try to explain to our former friends why we became Catholics. There is a huge wave of American converts who owe a debt to people like Karl Keating who reached out to us in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Francis hasn’t indicated any particular interest in this trend, but neither did John Paul or Benedict. It’s a strongly American Catholic thing. But Catholic Answers has made an impact around the world, as young Catholic lay evangelists from around the world often email me to say they’ve been downloading our stuff and using it in a variety of ways.

As far as I know, no pope, including this one, has ever undertaken to address this particular apologetics subculture. There is no Letter to the Apologists from the pope. Nor do I expect there to be or feel the need for one. I don’t expect Francis to have a particular impact on the apologetics subculture, other than being a shepherd and teacher we take as a model, and I’m O.K. with that. But I think what Pope Francis has done, at least for people like me who try to defend the faith, is give us a new opportunity to defend the pope from Catholics who fear him—and that’s a weird experience for me! I never thought I’d find myself in the ironic position of having to defend the pope from fellow Catholics who loved John Paul and Benedict. Right now, much of the apologetics writing I do is to support Pope Francis when he teaches things the church has always said, but which for some reason we haven’t really grasped until now, and which strike dark fears into the hearts of Catholics who, well, really ought to know better.