On the one hand, some Roman Catholics have had it with political liberalism and are calling for a return to integralism or the state’s subjection to the church. That would resonate well with Pius X (but not with the Second Vatican Council):

That the State must be separated from the Church is a thesis absolutely false, a most pernicious error. Based, as it is, on the principle that the State must not recognize any religious cult, it is in the first place guilty of a great injustice to God; for the Creator of man is also the Founder of human societies, and preserves their existence as He preserves our own. We owe Him, therefore, not only a private cult, but a public and social worship to honor Him. Besides, this thesis is an obvious negation of the supernatural order. It limits the action of the State to the pursuit of public prosperity during this life only, which is but the proximate object of political societies; and it occupies itself in no fashion (on the plea that this is foreign to it) with their ultimate object which is man’s eternal happiness after this short life shall have run its course. But as the present order of things is temporary and subordinated to the conquest of man’s supreme and absolute welfare, it follows that the civil power must not only place no obstacle in the way of this conquest, but must aid us in effecting it. The same thesis also upsets the order providentially established by God in the world, which demands a harmonious agreement between the two societies. Both of them, the civil and the religious society, although each exercises in its own sphere its authority over them. It follows necessarily that there are many things belonging to them in common in which both societies must have relations with one another. Remove the agreement between Church and State, and the result will be that from these common matters will spring the seeds of disputes which will become acute on both sides; it will become more difficult to see where the truth lies, and great confusion is certain to arise. Finally, this thesis inflicts great injury on society itself, for it cannot either prosper or last long when due place is not left for religion, which is the supreme rule and the sovereign mistress in all questions touching the rights and the duties of men. Hence the Roman Pontiffs have never ceased, as circumstances required, to refute and condemn the doctrine of the separation of Church and State.

But then, in some of the very same outlets where political liberalism has been taking it in the shorts, we see calls for the laity to stand up and be counted when the bishops appear to be so complicit and helpless in the current revelations of sex scandals and cover-ups. The problem here is that the older view of church and state also involved an idea about clergy-laity relations that was not exactly modern. Cue Piux X again:

…the Church is essentially an unequal society, that is, a society comprising two categories of per sons, the Pastors and the flock, those who occupy a rank in the different degrees of the hierarchy and the multitude of the faithful. So distinct are these categories that with the pastoral body only rests the necessary right and authority for promoting the end of the society and directing all its members towards that end; the one duty of the multitude is to allow themselves to be led, and, like a docile flock, to follow the Pastors.


One Man’s Modernism is Another Woman’s Sacramentality

Apparently Tracey Rowland doesn’t read Geerhardus Vos or Eric Voegelin and so isn’t worried about “immanentizing the eschaton.” On her recent visit to Scotland she found that Rome’s sacraments are exactly what ails the land of Presbyterianism:

On a recent trip to Scotland Bishop Gilbert of Aberdeen asked me whether I was familiar with the Scottish writer George Mackay Brown. I had to confess that I had never heard of him. A few days later I was rummaging through second-hand book stores searching for everything and anything by Mackay Brown.

Bishop Gilbert had got me hooked by suggesting I read Mackay Brown’s essay “The Treading of Grapes,” which takes the form of three homilies on the Wedding Feast of Cana. One is delivered in 1788 by a classically Calvinist Presbyterian minister, down on every kind of human enjoyment from wine to party dresses. He uses the story of Cana to berate his flock about spending too much money on their wives’ wardrobes, and drinking too much at weddings. He compared their enjoyment of ale to piglets sucking on the teats of a sow.

The second homily is delivered in the 20th century by a modern liberal Protestant minister, who uses the homily to explain that Jesus didn’t really turn water into wine. There was no miracle. Jesus was simply a good organizer who saw to it behind the scenes that supplies were sufficient.

Finally, one is treated to a homily by a Catholic priest delivered in 1548. Rather than berating people as piglets, or denying the reality of miracles, the priest tells his congregation that at the wedding feast of the Lamb they will all be princes. Therefore, he says, I will call you Olaf the Fisherman and Jock the Crofter no longer, but I will call you by the name the Creator will call you on the last day—princes! Prince Olaf! Prince Jock!, et cetera.

The priest left out that his auditors may not be at the wedding feast but still waiting in purgatory.

Still, Rowland thinks the sacraments break down dualism and allow Christianity to flourish:

It can’t be all that difficult to compete with liberal Calvinism and garden-variety New Age paganism when one has the full treasury of a sacramental Catholicism—a faith for which there is “no separation,” no iron curtain standing between the sacred and the profane, no unbridgeable gulf between heaven and the Highlands and the valley of the River Clyde.

Apparently, Professor Rowland is unfamiliar with modernism and its dangers (even though Pius X should have registered a few dents in the Communio mind). According to William R. Hutchison who wrote THE book on Protestant modernism, modern Christians are all in favor of doing away with dualism of all kinds:

[Modernism] generally meant three things: first and most visibly, it mean the conscious, intended adaptation of religious ideas to modern culture. . . . for the Protestant theologians, preachers, and teachers who either championed or opposed the idea of cultural adaptation, two further and deeper notions were important. One was the idea that God is immanent in human cultural development and revealed through it. The other was a belief that human society is moving toward the realization (even though it may never attain the reality) of the Kingdom of God. (Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism, 2)

I don’t know about Professor Rowland, but maintaining some distinction between the sacred and secular, between the Mass and the Happy Meal, is fairly basic for preventing Christians from reverting to the pagan world where gods and spirits infested so many aspects of nature that chopping down a tree was no different from destroying the statue of a saint.

What a Disciplined Church Looks Like

Orthodox Presbyterians left the PCUSA because practice did not match theology, especially when theology did not change but practice did. Turns out Pius X who opposed modernism was a model for Orthodox Presbyterians (sort of). Boniface explains:

Pius X was not content to simply speak the truth; he put his convictions into practice by taking positive action against Modernism. Pascendi decrees that Modernists be deposed from teaching positions. If they are clerics, their bishops are to place them in the most obscure of offices where they can cause little trouble. Their books are to be censured. The Oath Against Modernism is instituted. Anti-Modernists are promoted while it is made known that no Modernist has any future possibility of promotion (if only that had remained true!). SO vigorous was his assault that the Modernists and progressives complained about his heavy hand.

In short, Pius X never thought merely stating the truth was sufficient; he needed to use the power at his disposal to see it pushed through.

What could conservative bishops do, or have done, that they have not?

Vigorously punish heresy in their own dioceses. Keep strict watch on the activities of certain priests and suspend, dismiss or defrock those who clearly dissent from Church teaching.

Preach the truth boldly, including explicit condemnations of particular groups or ideologies, even condemning heterodox teachers or priests by name when necessary. Go beyond the typical non-offensive, wishy-washy bishop-speak.

Use the resources of a diocese to publish actual informative and instructional materials, not the sort of nonsense most dioceses put out.

Actually issue liturgical directives to promote tradition. The contemporary Church documents offer considerable leeway in how liturgy can be done; the upside of this is that the bishop is given the final call on all of these options. A bishop could easily say, “No guitars and drums at any diocesan Mass”, or mandate sacred chant, or compel every parish to offer at least a monthly Traditional Latin Mass. Novus Ordo Masses must at least incorporate Latin and be said ad orientam.

Dismiss lay persons or members of subversive religious orders from their diocesan committees.

Actually use the tool of excommunication against dissident theologians and dissenting Catholic politicians.

Use resources of the diocese for meaningful ( I stress meaningful) social activism. Example: One priest told me there used to be a scummy motel near his parish that was frequented by prostitutes. He raised some money, bought the motel, and had it torn down. What if the millions raised by our diocesan appeals were used for such uses?

Organize at the regional level and use their weight to push through appointments within the USCCB or elsewhere that were favorable to them while simultaneously using their influence to keep out liberal appointments.

Host guest-speakers friendly to tradition and forbid those who are not.

Forbid Catholic schools and hospitals from engaging in activities harmful to the Catholic faith and actually back up these directives with the appropriate force.

Fire all Catholic school teachers who are in immoral relationships.

Actually celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass and require all seminarians to know it and be comfortable with Latin.

Publicly censure books and films hostile or dangerous to the Catholic faith.

Mandate traditional arrangements in the architecture of sanctuaries and churches; stipulate that no parish has the right to undertake any renovations unless personally approved by him.

Promote priests who cooperate with this agenda and punish those who don’t.

In short, never, never miss an opportunity to promote tradition and actively punish and repress liberalism. Speak the truth boldly but also use the weight of the office to silence, retard, dismiss or dispirit the liberal opposition.

Conservative Protestants who object to contemporary Roman Catholicism are not applying an artificial or alien standard. Protestants who convert to Roman Catholicism were likely never clear about the dangers of modernism or what its chief characteristics were. Modernists didn’t change doctrine. They came along side the world and felt its pain. Real conservatives (Protestant and Roman Catholic) did more than shrug.

Meanwhile, Bryan and the Jasons have been awfully quiet in their call amidst papal visits and convening cardinals. The most recent items are from May and April 2015, and November 2014. Timeless.

Did the Mainline Win or Did 'Merica?

John Fea has an interview with Peggy Bendroth about her new book, The Last Puritans: Mainline Protestants and the Power of the Past (The University of North Carolina Press, 2015). This exchange stood out:

JF: Why do we need to read The Last Puritans?

PB: Here’s one practical reason: since the 1980s, if we use George Marsden’s Fundamentalism and American Culture as the benchmark, historians of American religion have been working overtime to understand evangelicals. It has worked well, really well. The old stereotypes have been demolished and we now have a richly textured picture of evangelicalism in all of its aspects, from fundamentalist to Pentecostal.

We also have an assumption that there was no spiritual curiosity or zeal anywhere else, and that mainliners in particular were boring and feckless bureaucrats presiding over their own demise. Very few of us have actually worked through primary sources, however, and we know surprisingly little about what happened in mainline denominations for most of the twentieth century. That means that we cannot explain, as David Hollinger and others now argue, how mainline liberal values—tolerance and cooperation—have quietly come to define so much of mainstream American culture today. I’m thinking especially of Amazing Grace by Robert Putnam and David Campbell, a picture of American religiosity far different from the usual stereotypes of the culture wars. Mainline denominations may be disappearing, but this is, I think, more of an organizational problem than a failure of their ideals.

I’ve seen references like this to David Hollinger’s argument a lot of late. It is the perfect way to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The mainline churches didn’t lose. Instead, America became like the mainline. Mainline Protestants favored tolerance and cooperation and when America embraced those same ideals they were actually coming to Jesus even though they didn’t know it.


Another way to think of this same process is Americanization. Consider Al Smith’s creed which he wrote for the Atlantic Monthly magazine in 1927 on the eve of his nomination as the Democratic candidate for president of the United States:

I believe in the worship of God according to the faith and practice of the Roman Catholic Church.
I recognize no power in the institutions of my Church to interfere with the operations of the Constitution of the United States or the enforcement of the law of the land.
I believe in absolute freedom of conscience for all men and in equality of all churches, all sects, and all beliefs before the law as a matter of right and not as a matter of favor.
I believe in the absolute separation of Church and State and in the strict enforcement of the provisions of the Constitution that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
I believe that no tribunal of any church has any power to make any decree of any force in the law of the land, other than to establish the status of its own communicants within its own church.
I believe in the support of the public school as one of the cornerstones of American liberty.
I believe in the right of every parent to choose whether his child shall be educated in the public school or in a religious school supported by those of his own faith.
I believe in the principled noninterference by this country in the internal affairs of other nations and that we should stand steadfastly against any such interference by whomsoever it may be urged.
And I believe in the common brotherhood of man under the common fatherhood of God.

Using Hollinger and Bendroth’s logic, does that mean that when the United States came to embrace the separation of church and state along with freedom of conscience the nation was actually channeling the Vatican?

Or, was it the case that Al Smith was simply doing what lots of Americanist bishops before had done — and the Vatican had mildly condemned — adapting Roman Catholicism to American realities?

Typically, when immigrant churches adapt to the host culture of the United States, we call that Americanization or assimilation. So why can’t we do that with mainline Protestants? If we did, we would conclude that mainline Protestantism and Americanist Roman Catholicism both share a willingness to let the aspirations and expectations of American society shape the teaching and practice of the church. That sounds modernist. It did to Piux X.

Does that Apply to Justin Bieber and Global Capitalism?

Jason Stellman is back in apologist mode and thinks it great that Roman Catholicism loves paganism (not even Michael Sean Winters says this):

Our paradigm has at its heart the Christmas story, the coming-in-the-flesh of the Son of God. If divinity assumed humanity to the point where the second Person of the Trinity will forever participate in human flesh and human nature, then there simply is no option for pitting heaven against earth, spirit against flesh.

If the Incarnation teaches us anything, it’s that God is all about affirming the world, not destroying it.

When a Catholic considers pagan culture, then, he doesn’t think of it as some kind of defective problem to overcome, but instead views it through the lens of Christ and sees a divine exclamation point placed after every true and beautiful pagan idea or endeavor.

In a word, we see kinship and commonality with paganism. Pagans may worship nature or bow before a sacred tree or stone altar, while we worship the Creator of nature and bow before the cross and venerate the altar on which the Eucharistic sacrifice is offered.

The problem for Jason is that Roman Catholicism didn’t embrace incarnationality when it came to Protestantism in the 16th century. And if what Jason says is true for contemporary Roman Catholicism, does that mean he has gone to the other side about the benefits of free markets and the beauty of Justin Bieber’s music (I seem to recall in the one episode of Drunk Ex Pastors that Jason was gleeful in mocking the teenage crooner)?

It also makes me wonder if Jason became a Roman Catholic because the communion now resembles liberal Protestantism. And that’s another wrinkle in Jason’s argument. Protestants of a certain kind also affirmed the incarnation to embrace the world. We used to call them modernists.

Some Protestants opposed modernism. So did Pope Pius X. Neither wanted Christians to embrace the pagan world the way Jason does. In fact, it used to be the case that Jason would need approval from his bishop to read John Calvin or David Hume. An index of forbidden books does not sound, in Jason’s words, like a “healthier avenue toward dialogue and mutual respect.”

So which Roman Catholicism is Jason talking about? And is that the one to which Bryan Cross is calling?

Always is a Long Time

Over at Commonweal, the interpreters interpreting THE interpreter, assert something about the unchanging nature of Roman Catholic teaching:

The Catholic Church has always taught that the right to private property is never absolute, and must always be subordinated to common use—making sure that the needs of all are met. And while collectivism can elevate common use at the expense of private ownership, free-market individualism errs in the opposite direction. Writing at the time of the Great Depression, Pius XI was particularly blunt: “The right ordering of economic life cannot be left to a free competition of forces,” he said. “For from this source, as from a poisoned spring, have originated and spread all the errors of individualist economic teaching.”

The notion that the church goes back to Peter invites this notion of a long tradition of unwavering conviction. But the antiquity of Rome also invites a form of amnesia in which apologists and interpreters read the most recent back into the past. Most people suffer from this problem. Historians call it presentism. But it is a weightier matter for Roman Catholic apologists since so much of the case against Protestantism hinges on the notion that Rome has 1500 more years than Protestantism.

Yet, rarely do the historically minded do justice to the pronounced changes that have accompanied Rome’s own adaptation to modern life. Consider the recent “breathtaking” editorial where editors on the left and the right of matters Roman Catholic experienced a kumbayah epiphany and joined paragraphs to oppose capital punishment:

We, the editors of four Catholic journals — America, National Catholic Register, National Catholic Reporter and Our Sunday Visitor — urge the readers of our diverse publications and the whole U.S. Catholic community and all people of faith to stand with us and say, “Capital punishment must end.”

The Catholic Church in this country has fought against the death penalty for decades. Pope St. John Paul II amended the universal Catechism of the Catholic Church to include a de facto prohibition against capital punishment (2263-2267). Last year, Pope Francis called on all Catholics “to fight … for the abolition of the death penalty.” The practice is abhorrent and unnecessary. It is also insanely expensive, as court battles soak up resources better deployed in preventing crime in the first place and working toward restorative justice for those who commit less heinous crimes.

This also prompted Dwight Longenecker to praise God for a kairos moment. There is nothing wrong — aside from the spirituality of the church — with Roman Catholics opposing the death penalty. It’s a free country and if you’re going to be in the business of editorializing about everything and sundry in the name of Christ, why stop now?

The problem is that the meme of antiquity obscures level headed reflection on what the church has “always” taught and even sometimes did. The much longer history of Christianity indicates that Roman Catholics (Protestants too) not only supported capital punishment but that popes as temporal rulers oversaw the execution of persons who committed capital offenses. I can’t vouch for the accuracy, though the material is plausible, but here is a list of the criminals executed during the reign of the Roman pontiff as a temporal or civil authority. It is long, maybe not as long as that for other kingdoms or nations, but if true in the context of the recent editorial it calls to mind Captain Renault’s shock to learn that gambling was taking place in Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca.

Numbers like this may explain why John Allen was could write the way he did about John Paul II’s change on capital punishment:

So strong had Italian aversion to capital punishment become that when an anarchist named Angelo Bresci assassinated King Umberto I in 1900, Italian courts sentenced him to life in prison. It was the first time a man had killed a European king (without toppling his regime) and not been executed.

Yet the Catholic church was never part of this development. The guillotine was busy up to the very last minute of the pope-king’s regime. Its final use came on July 9, 1870, just two months before Italian revolutionaries captured Rome.

What explains this stubbornness? In part, that Catholic standby — tradition. Christian writers since the fourth century had defended capital punishment.

St. Augustine did so in The City of God. “Since the agent of authority is but a sword in the hand [of God], it is in no way contrary to the commandment `Thou shalt not kill’ for the representative of the state’s authority to put criminals to death,” he wrote.

Augustine saw the death penalty as a form of charity. “Inflicting capital punishment … protects those who are undergoing it from the harm they may suffer … through increased sinning, which might continue if their life went on.”

Aquinas followed Augustine in the 13th century in Summa Contra Gentiles. “The civil rulers execute, justly and sinlessly, pestiferous men in order to protect the state,” he wrote. The Cathechism of the Council of Trent, issued in 1566, solidly endorsed capital punishment as an act of “paramount obedience” to the fifth commandment against murder.

Nor was this tradition confined to the Middle Ages. As late as Sept. 14, 1952, Pope Pius XII echoed its logic. “It is reserved to the public power to deprive the-condemned of the benefit of life, in expiation of his fault, when already he has dispossessed himself of the right to live,” he said.

The leading abolitionists of the 18th and 19th centuries were Enlightenment-inspired critics of revealed religion. Popes defended their right to send people to death because to do otherwise seemed tantamount to abandoning belief in eternal life.

Catholic scholar James Megivern summed up the tradition this way: “If tempted to waver, one needed only to consult the bedrock authorities from Aquinas to Suarez. Questioning it could seem an act of arrogant temerity. If one did not believe in the death penalty, what other parts of the Christian faith might one also be daring or arrogant enough to doubt or deny?”

All of which makes the shift in thinking under John Paul II astonishing.

In the 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, John Poul wrote that the only time executions can be justified is when they are required “to defend society,” and that “as a result of steady improvements … in the penal system such cases are very rare if not practically nonexistent.”

Not only journalists but Cardinals were surprised by the pope’s change. In a piece for First Things in April 2001, Avery Cardinal Dulles reminded the chorus of U.S. Roman Catholic death penalty opponents of their church’s history going back before Vatican II, papal social encyclicals, and the unification of Italy:

In modern times Doctors of the Church such as Robert Bellarmine and Alphonsus Liguori held that certain criminals should be punished by death. Venerable authorities such as Francisco de Vitoria, Thomas More, and Francisco Suárez agreed. John Henry Newman, in a letter to a friend, maintained that the magistrate had the right to bear the sword, and that the Church should sanction its use, in the sense that Moses, Joshua, and Samuel used it against abominable crimes.

Throughout the first half of the twentieth century the consensus of Catholic theologians in favor of capital punishment in extreme cases remained solid, as may be seen from approved textbooks and encyclopedia articles of the day. The Vatican City State from 1929 until 1969 had a penal code that included the death penalty for anyone who might attempt to assassinate the pope. Pope Pius XII, in an important allocution to medical experts, declared that it was reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned of the benefit of life in expiation of their crimes.

Summarizing the verdict of Scripture and tradition, we can glean some settled points of doctrine. It is agreed that crime deserves punishment in this life and not only in the next. In addition, it is agreed that the State has authority to administer appropriate punishment to those judged guilty of crimes and that this punishment may, in serious cases, include the sentence of death.

Dulles added the theological reasons for such a tradition and noted the flimsy premises for opposition to the death penalty:

To warrant this radical revision—one might almost say reversal—of the Catholic tradition, Father Concetti and others explain that the Church from biblical times until our own day has failed to perceive the true significance of the image of God in man, which implies that even the terrestrial life of each individual person is sacred and inviolable. In past centuries, it is alleged, Jews and Christians failed to think through the consequences of this revealed doctrine. They were caught up in a barbaric culture of violence and in an absolutist theory of political power, both handed down from the ancient world. But in our day, a new recognition of the dignity and inalienable rights of the human person has dawned. Those who recognize the signs of the times will move beyond the outmoded doctrines that the State has a divinely delegated power to kill and that criminals forfeit their fundamental human rights. The teaching on capital punishment must today undergo a dramatic development corresponding to these new insights.

This abolitionist position has a tempting simplicity. But it is not really new. It has been held by sectarian Christians at least since the Middle Ages. Many pacifist groups, such as the Waldensians, the Quakers, the Hutterites, and the Mennonites, have shared this point of view. But, like pacifism itself, this absolutist interpretation of the right to life found no echo at the time among Catholic theologians, who accepted the death penalty as consonant with Scripture, tradition, and the natural law.

The mounting opposition to the death penalty in Europe since the Enlightenment has gone hand in hand with a decline of faith in eternal life. In the nineteenth century the most consistent supporters of capital punishment were the Christian churches, and its most consistent opponents were groups hostile to the churches. When death came to be understood as the ultimate evil rather than as a stage on the way to eternal life, utilitarian philosophers such as Jeremy Bentham found it easy to dismiss capital punishment as “useless annihilation.”

In other words, the switch in attitudes about the death penalty among contemporary Roman Catholics (magisterial and lay) has less to do with biblical and theological reflection and more to do with the modernist habit of adapting the faith to modern times. Worse, it reflects the modern sensibility of knowing that we know better than people who lived in the past. Even worse, this notion of knowing better runs up against the problem of knowing more than say, the son of God, the apostles, or (for Roman Catholics) infallible popes knew. I understand that many Roman Catholic apologists think that modernism can’t happen among Roman Catholics because Pius X condemned it and that settles it. But the phenomenon of modernism is always before the church, that is, a temptation to cave in to the pressure that comes from the opposition between the church and the world (as if Vatican II wasn’t a classic case of caving with its program of updating the faith).

The haunting thought that so-called conservatives like Father Dwight should have is this: if the church which for centuries had regarded capital punishment as a plausible outworking of revealed truth can change on this, what might the bishops do at the upcoming summit on families, marriage, and sex?

Modernism Watch

The classic definition of Protestant modernism came from J. Gresham Machen in Christianity and Liberalism. He understood that modernism was an apologetic strategy — a way to save Christianity in the face of modern intellectual and social developments. That strategy involved explaining away certain doctrines as the mere husk of Christianity (deity of Christ, virgin birth, infallibility of Scripture) and properly locating the kernel of Christian teaching (the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man, the vicinity of Boston). What modernists did and still do is historicize the faith. Christians believed truth X once upon a time but we now understand how X was the product of a historical moment. The modernist looks beneath the exterior of Christian belief, which is historically situated, and finds the universal truth to which it points.

The classic definition for Roman Catholic modernism came from Pius X (hence the Society of Saint Piux X) who in 1907 wrote:

These rebels profess and repeat, in subtle formulas, monstrous errors on the evolution of dogma, on the return to the pure Gospel—that is, as they say, a Gospel purified of theological explication, Council definitions, and the maxims of the moral life—and on the emancipation of the Church. This they do in their new fashion: they do not engage in revolt, lest they should be ejected, and yet they do not submit either, so that they do not have to abandon their convictions. In their calls for the Church to adapt to modern conditions, in everything they speak and write, preaching a charity without faith, they are very indulgent towards believers, but in reality they are opening up for everyone the path to eternal ruin.

And now traditionalist Roman Catholics fear that the Synod of Bishops who are discussing the nature of marriage, that these church authorities are dabbling in modernism. Even some on the left side of the Roman Catholic spectrum seem to agree (even if taking encouragement from such dabbling) though they prefer the phrase “development of doctrine” to modernism (who wouldn’t?):

Let’s look at this issue of developing doctrine and changing pastoral practice as it relates to the “homosexual agenda” which has +Burke so exercised. For years, for centuries, the Church shared the biases of the ambient culture. Homosexuality was the sin that dare not speak its name and gay people were ostracized and worse. There was little in the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family that was crafted with even a thought to the existence of LGBT people and no obvious congruence between that teaching and the lived experience of gay Catholics. But, what the Church neglected for all those years was a core, foundational doctrine: All human persons are made in the image and likeness of God. This doctrine is, I dare say, even more foundational than the Church’s teaching on marriage, indeed, the Church’s teaching on marriage and all ethical issues is built upon the imago dei, but nobody, until our lifetimes, thought to apply this doctrine to the pastoral care of gays and lesbians.

What changed? First, the experience of HIV/AIDS. In the same way that the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin demonstrated to all the suffering and horror of slavery to people who knew little about it, the AIDS epidemic called forth the most basic Christian, humane sensibility: compassion. . . .

There is an old joke that when the Church announces a change, the document always begins, “As the Church has always taught….” This is usually cited as a way to suggest that the Church is a bit cynical, even hypocritical. But, in fact, this is how change happens in the Church. “The Church has always taught” that all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, we just forgot to apply that to gays and lesbians for a few centuries. The Church has always taught that Communion is the food of mercy, essential to the on-going conversion of all Christians, not just the divorced and remarried. No one is going to “change doctrine” at this synod, but the synod fathers are trying to retrieve lost insights, recalibrate the way our doctrines are applied in real pastoral praxis, discern new ways to proclaim the Gospel. The synod is evidence that the Church is alive and still attentive to the Holy Spirit, not only to the treatises on canon law. Those who are afraid of this synod – and of this pope – and the ones of little faith.

It’s hard to know how to argue against a view that says “we have always believed this even though it didn’t look like it.” But then arguing against experience as opposed to debating a proposition (yes, I’ve invoked the bogeyman of propositional truth, language speaker than I am) is like making a case against second-hand smoke. And yet, following experience instead of doctrine appears to be precisely what the cardinals are doing in Rome:

Unlike in the past, when bishops or theologians would deduce theology from general, sometimes idealized notions of God or humanity, the prelates at the Synod of Bishops on the family are using inductive reasoning to instead examine theology in the reality of families today, Canadian Archbishop Paul-André Durocher said.

“What’s happening within the synod is we’re seeing a more inductive way of reflecting, starting from the true situation of people and trying to figure out what’s going on here,” said Durocher, who leads the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The prelates, the archbishop said, are “finding that the lived experience of people is also a theological source — what we call a theological source, a place of theological reflection.”

“I think we’re learning to use the Harvard case study method in reflecting theologically on the lives of people,” continued the archbishop, who also heads the archdiocese of Gatineau in Quebec.

“And we’re only, in a sense, starting to learn how to do this as church leaders,” he said. “And this is going to take time for us, to learn to do this and together to come — as we reflect on this — to find what is the way that God is showing.”

When the bishops do eventually figure out how to use the experience of people to construct theology, will Jason and the Callers follow suit? So far the answers from the Callers have been all out of a Pius X framework. They have yet to enter or accommodate the modern world that Vatican II embraced (not to mention missing all the lessons of twentieth-century Protestant history that produced separate communions like the OPC and the PCA).

No Ecclesiology, No Identity

Here are a few quotations to support the earlier claim that World Vision and evangelicalism more generally is infected with modernist Protestantism:

World Vision now has staff from more than 50 denominations—a handful of which have sanctioned same-sex marriages or unions in recent years, including the United Church of Christ, The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Presbyterian Church (USA). Meanwhile, same-sex marriage is now legal in 17 states plus the District of Columbia, and federal judges have struck down bans in five other states (Utah, Texas, Oklahoma, Virginia, and—most recently—Michigan) as well as required Kentucky to recognize such marriages performed in other states. (All six rulings are stayed until the appeals process is complete.) . . . .

“Denominations disagree on many, many things: on divorce and remarriage, modes of baptism, women in leadership roles in the church, beliefs on evolution, etc.,” he said. “So our practice has always been to defer to the authority and autonomy of local churches and denominational bodies on matters of doctrine that go beyond the Apostles’ Creed and our statement of faith. We unite around our [Trinitarian beliefs], and we have always deferred to the local church on these other matters.”

The reason the prohibition existed in the first place? “It’s kind of a historical issue,” said Stearns. “Same-sex marriage has only been a huge issue in the church in the last decade or so. There used to be much more unity among churches on this issue, and that’s changed.”

And the change has been painful to watch. “It’s been heartbreaking to watch this issue rip through the church,” he said. “It’s tearing churches apart, tearing denominations apart, tearing Christian colleges apart, and even tearing families apart. Our board felt we cannot jump into the fight on one side or another on this issue. We’ve got to focus on our mission. We are determined to find unity in our diversity.”

Highlighting the church/parachurch distinction: Board member and pastor John Crosby, who served as interim leader when a number of churches split off from the Presbyterian Church (USA) after the denomination dropped a celibacy requirement for gay clergy in 2011. At a conference that laid the foundation of the new Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, the Minnesota megachurch pastor stated, “We have tried to create such a big tent trying to make everybody happy theologically. I fear the tent has collapsed without a center.”

However, as a World Vision board member, Crosby didn’t have a problem voting for the policy change. “It’s a matter of trying to decide what the core mission of the organization is,” he said.

If World Vision’s leadership is largely worshiping in mainline Protestant churches, then this quotation on the organization’s reversal makes more sense, as in, “wow, we never considered that”:

“The last couple of days have been painful,” president Richard Stearns told reporters this evening. “We feel pain and a broken heart for the confusion we caused for many friends who saw this policy change as a strong reversal of World Vision’s commitment to biblical authority, which it was not intended to be.”

“Rather than creating more unity [among Christians], we created more division, and that was not the intent,” said Stearns. “Our board acknowledged that the policy change we made was a mistake … and we believe that [World Vision supporters] helped us to see that with more clarity … and we’re asking you to forgive us for that mistake.”

“We listened to [our] friends, we listened to their counsel. They tried to point out in loving ways that the conduct policy change was simply not consistent … with the authority of Scripture and how we apply Scripture to our lives,” said Stearns. “We did inadequate consultation with our supporters. If I could have a do-over on one thing, I would have done much more consultation with Christian leaders.”

Somewhere along the line, a lot of U.S. Christians (Protestant and Roman Catholic) gave up the battle with modernism. In my reading of the record, it started for Protestants with the neo-evangelicals of Billy Graham fame who wanted a kinder gentler conservative Protestantism. That neo-evangelical project ignored ecclesiology for the sake of a broader effort, and so it refused to rule out Protestants who were members of modernist churches. For Roman Catholics, it seemed to come with Vatican II, a time when Pius X’s oath against modernism looked like a quaint relic (can encyclicals be relics?) of an era different from the life and times of the 1960s church. (It is more of a mystery, given all that infallibility jazz, that Rome has gone soft on modernism. Evangelicals have long been confused.) Only where the battles with modernism are alive and well have the saints (Protestant) the capacity to see problems in World Vision even before their recent waffling.

Postscript: As an example of how modernism continued to haunt some confessional Protestants, here’s a quotation from E. J. Young’s December 6, 1955 letter to Carl Henry in which he declined serving on the editorial board of Christianity Today:

As you well know, Carl, there was in the Presbyterian Church a great controversy over modernism. That controversy was carried on by Dr. Machen in part. There were many who supported Dr. Machen in his opposition to unbelief. On the other hand there were many who did not support him. When matters came to a showdown and Dr. Machen was put from the church there were those who decided it would be better to remain within and to fight from within. . . . Since that time I have watched eagerly to see what would be done by those who remained in the church. They have done absolutely nothing. Not one voice has been raised so far as I know to get the church to acknowledge its error in 1936 and to invite back into its fold those who felt constrained to leave, or those who were put out of the church. . . . What has greatly troubled me has been the complete silence of the ministers in the church. They simply have not lived up to their ordination vows.

When Logic Is Delusional

Sure, I find Bryan Cross’s grading of all my utterances for logical correctness annoying. But aside from my own mental inadequacies, I have trouble understanding how logic can be such a part of the apologetic tactic Bryan (along with Jason and the Callers) brings to the interweb. Have these fellows not heard of Vatican’s Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith or what this congregation said about doctrinal formulations and hermeneutics? Consider this:

First Question: Did the Second Vatican Council change the Catholic doctrine on the Church?

Response: The Second Vatican Council neither changed nor intended to change this doctrine, rather it developed, deepened and more fully explained it.

This was exactly what John XXIII said at the beginning of the Council.[1] Paul VI affirmed it and commented in the act of promulgating the Constitution “Lumen gentium”: “There is no better comment to make than to say that this promulgation really changes nothing of the traditional doctrine. What Christ willed, we also will. What was, still is. What the Church has taught down through the centuries, we also teach. In simple terms that which was assumed, is now explicit; that which was uncertain, is now clarified; that which was meditated upon, discussed and sometimes argued over, is now put together in one clear formulation.” The Bishops repeatedly expressed and fulfilled this intention.

This 2007 explanation, of course, fits entirely with the idea of development of doctrine even if it doesn’t fit with Bryan’s appeal to logic. Part of the difficulty on the latter matter concerns whether what the CDF said in 2007 follows logically from the premise established by Pius X roughly 100 years earlier when he required of any priest an Oath against Modernism which contained this:

Fourthly, I sincerely hold that the doctrine of faith was handed down to us from the apostles through the orthodox Fathers in exactly the same meaning and always in the same purport. Therefore, I entirely reject the heretical’ misrepresentation that dogmas evolve and change from one meaning to another different from the one which the Church held previously. I also condemn every error according to which, in place of the divine deposit which has been given to the spouse of Christ to be carefully guarded by her, there is put a philosophical figment or product of a human conscience that has gradually been developed by human effort and will continue to develop indefinitely.

This is merely the policy that followed from Pius X’s condemnation of Modernism and the notion of evolution of doctrine (13).

Maybe someone schooled in upper level logic can reconcile development of doctrine (A) with a condemnation of development of doctrine (not A). Curious minds do want to know. But perhaps Bryan along with Jason and the Callers should consider one of their fellow converts from a semi-Reformed Protestant background who might judge their high view of logic as just one more instance of Protestant rationalism and logocentrism:

For evangelicals, things say what they mean and mean what they say. Lines are drawn, people get clear on where they stand, and clarity and consistency throughout is paramount. That is its literal, either/or, univocal approach at work again. that view also reflects Protestantism central emphasis on the word. . . . Correct words, for Protestants — particularly for evangelical rationalists — are therefore nearly themselves sacred, because Christian truth itself is presented directly in the right words.

Catholics also care very much about right words. But their approach to words is a bit different in a way that turns out to make a big difference. Catholicism, in short, recognizes a gap between words and what the words express or represent. For Protestants, the words are the truth. That is why one must get them exactly right. For Catholics, by contrast, words formulate expressions of truth. There is not in Catholicism a literal, exact, univocal correspondence or identity between words and truth. Much of the truth, especially truth that directly concerns God, is in Catholicism a mystery. Ultimately the truth is God. And God is not words. (Christian Smith, How to Go from Being a Good Evangelical to a Committed Catholic, 104-105)

Tell that to Pius X.

Smith goes on to quote from the CDF (quoted above) and goes on to say:

Catholicism can thus at once claim infallibility for some of its teachings and at the same time revise the verbal expression of those teachings. Even the doctrine of papal infallibility does not claim that the verbal formulations per se that are promulgated by popes are infallible. Rather, it is the real truths which their verbal formulations express that are infallible. In short, we haven’t gotten at all wrong what we say is true, even though the way we say the truth might not be quite right or adequate. (106-107)

I for one don’t know what Smith’s hermeneutic means for the status and authority of a papal encyclical or for Bryan Cross’ love of logic, but it has all the marks of theological modernism and the way that Protestant and Roman Catholic liberals said that words and their meanings wobbled across time without needing to be pinned down. H. L. Mencken, by no means a Protestant or a Roman Catholic, like Pius X saw through the hockum of modernism and recognized its threat to all forms of knowledge:

I confess frankly, as a life-long fan of theology, that I can find no defect in his defense of his position. Is Christianity actually a revealed religion? If not, then it is nothing; if so, then we must accept the Bible as an inspired statement of its principles. But how can we think of the Bible as inspired and at the same time as fallible? How can we imagine it as part divine and awful truth, and part mere literary confectionary? And how, if we manage so to imagine it, are we to distinguish between the truth and the confectionary? Dr. Machen answers these questions very simply and very convincingly. If Christianity is really true, as he believes, then the Bible is true, and if the Bible is true, then it is true from cover to cover. So answering, he takes his stand upon it, and defies the hosts of Beelzebub to shake him. As I have hinted, I think that, given his faith, his position is completely impregnable. There is absolutely no flaw in the argument with which he supports it. If he is wrong, then the science of logic is a hollow vanity, signifying nothing.

Suspense Ended

The answer to the quotation teaser from a day or so ago is Roman Catholic. All winners will receive a PDF of the Old Life Theological Society mug.

The quotation comes from Pius X in his famous condemnation of modernism as a heresy with the encyclical, PASCENDI DOMINICI GREGIS (1907). It is a long statement that dug in the papacy’s heels even deeper against the forces of modernity. The pope was most concerned to condemn the influence of higher criticism and liberal theology. But as the quote shows, Rome’s opposition to modern times included American conventions like the separation of church and state.

Also worthy of note about the encyclical is Pius’ rejection of the “evolution of doctrine.” Here is a sample:

28. Thus then, Venerable Brethren, for the Modernists, both as authors and propagandists, there is to be nothing stable, nothing immutable in the Church. Nor indeed are they without precursors in their doctrines, for it was of these that Our Predecessor Pius IX wrote: These enemies of divine revelation extol human progress to the skies, and with rash and sacrilegious daring would have it introduced into the Catholic religion as if this religion were not the work of God but of man, or some kind of philosophical discovery susceptible of perfection by human efforts. On the subject of revelation and dogma in particular, the doctrine of the Modernists offers nothing new – we find it condemned in the Syllabus of Pius IX., where it is enunciated in these terms: Divine revelation is imperfect, and therefore subject to continual and indefinite progress, corresponding with the progress of human reason; and condemned still more solemnly in the Vatican Council: The doctrine of the faith which God has revealed has not been proposed to human intelligences to be perfected by them as if it were a philosophical system, but as a divine deposit entrusted to the Spouse of Christ to be faithfully guarded and infallibly interpreted. Hence the sense, too, of the sacred dogmas is that which our Holy Mother the Church has once declared, nor is this sense ever to be abandoned on plea or pretext of a more profound comprehension of the truth. Nor is the development of our knowledge, even concerning the faith, impeded by this pronouncement – on the contrary it is aided and promoted. For the same Council continues: Let intelligence and science and wisdom, therefore, increase and progress abundantly and vigorously in individuals and in the mass, in the believer and in the whole Church, throughout the ages and the centuries – but only in its own kind, that is, according to the same dogma, the same sense, the same acceptation.

Now I know I have the wrong paradigm which is good a locating men made of straw, but as I read this section I have a sense of tension between the papacy’s condemnation of modernism and the idea of the development of doctrine that flourishes whenever people ask about changes in the teaching of the church. When Pius quotes Vatican I that the doctrine revealed by God to the church is not to be “perfected” by human reason but is “a divine deposit entrusted to the Spouse of Christ to be faithfully guarded and infallibly interpreted,” it sure sounds like doctrines, teachings and practices won’t change. But that’s likely the view of traditionalist Roman Catholics.

But then along came Vatican II with all the affirmations of conciliarism and the laity:

37. The laity have the right, as do all Christians, to receive in abundance from their spiritual shepherds the spiritual goods of the Church, especially the assistance of the word of God and of the sacraments. They should openly reveal to them their needs and desires with that freedom and confidence which is fitting for children of God and brothers in Christ. They are, by reason of the knowledge, competence or outstanding ability which they may enjoy, permitted and sometimes even obliged to express their opinion on those things which concern the good of the Church. When occasions arise, let this be done through the organs erected by the Church for this purpose. Let it always be done in truth, in courage and in prudence, with reverence and charity toward those who by reason of their sacred office represent the person of Christ.

I am not sure that Pius X would have approved:

. . . studying more closely the ideas of the Modernists, evolution is described as resulting from the conflict of two forces, one of them tending towards progress, the other towards conservation. The conserving force in the Church is tradition, and tradition is represented by religious authority, and this both by right and in fact; for by right it is in the very nature of authority to protect tradition, and, in fact, for authority, raised as it is above the contingencies of life, feels hardly, or not at all, the spurs of progress. The progressive force, on the contrary, which responds to the inner needs lies in the individual consciences and ferments there – especially in such of them as are in most intimate contact with life. Note here, Venerable Brethren, the appearance already of that most pernicious doctrine which would make of the laity a factor of progress in the Church.

I guess that’s why you need the development of doctrine.