Spirituality of the Roman Catholic Church

Massimo Faggioli complains about Americanism among U.S. Roman Catholics (for more on why this seems odd, see this):

As the Republican Party has been radicalized in the past decade, so have more than a few bishops. During the same period, some prominent conservative intellectuals have embraced Catholicism for reasons that seem purely political. This is not a new phenomenon. It has much in common with Charles Maurras’ Action Française, a nationalist movement condemned by Pius XI in 1926. Maurras had no time for the Gospel but saw Catholicism as a useful tool for the creation of an antidemocratic social order. The new enthusiasm for an older version of Catholicism on the part of conservative intellectuals with no interest in theology also mirrors the rise of Ultramontanism in the first half of the nineteenth century. The Jesuit John O’Malley’s latest book on the theological movements that set the stage for Vatican I helps us see the many similarities between nineteenth-century Ultramontanism and early-twenty-first-century traditionalist Catholic Americanism. In both movements, the game is played mostly by journalists and other lay intellectuals whose understanding of the church is essentially political rather than spiritual.

Notice that Faggioli concedes that we have at least a “newer” version that contrasts with an “older” version of Roman Catholicism. That puts some dent in the idea that Rome is the church Jesus founded.

Even more curious is the how short the life of the newer Roman Catholicism is. Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the church was traditionalist and conservative, opposed in most cases to political and intellectual developments in the modern world. Vatican 2 opened up the church’s windows to — wait for it — modernity. For a brief time, between John XXII and John Paul I — 1959 to 1978 — the church experienced a modern Roman Catholicism, one that was more open, gracious, tolerant, forgiving (at least that is how some defenders of Vatican 2 put it). Then came the conservative crack down first with John Paul II and then his successor, Benedict XVI, which ran from 1978 to 2014, a much longer run than the liberal, open phase of “newer” Roman Catholicism. Only since 2014 has the “newer” version re-emerged as the official Roman Catholicism.

That means that, if you add 19 years to 5 years, only for 24 years has “newer” Roman Catholicism been available since the close of the Council of Trent (1563).

If I were in Faggioli’s shoes, or a defender of Pope Francis, I would not throw around words like “new” and “old.” If tradition matters to Roman Catholics, Faggioli’s version of Roman Catholicism has less antiquity than Pentecostalism.

As for Rome’s spiritual as opposed to its political character, why does Pope Francis write encyclicals about markets and the environment instead of Mary and the stations of the cross?

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Was Calvin’s Return to Geneva in 1541 a Miracle?

How much do Protestants associate the greatest hits of their churches’ history with anything like what Roman Catholics sometimes teach and believe about the House of Loreto. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Since the fifteenth century, and possibly even earlier, the “Holy House” of Loreto has been numbered among the most famous shrines of Italy. Loreto is a small town a few miles south of Ancona and near the sea. … this building is honoured by Christians as the veritable cottage at Nazareth in which the Holy Family lived, and the Word became incarnate. … Angels conveyed this House from Palestine to the town Tersato in Illyria in the year of salvation 1291 in the pontificate of Nicholas IV. Three years later, in the beginning of the pontificate of Boniface VIII, it was carried again by the ministry of angels and placed in a wood near this hill, in the vicinity of Recanati, in the March of Ancona; where having changed its station thrice in the course of a year, at length, by the will of God, it took up its permanent position on this spot [six] hundred years ago. Ever since that time, both the extraordinary nature of the event having called forth the admiring wonder of the neighbouring people and the fame of the miracles wrought in this sanctuary having spread far and wide, this Holy House, whose walls do not rest on any foundation and yet remain solid and uninjured after so many centuries, has been held in reverence by all nations.”

Got that? The house where Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth is now in Italy. No construction company performed the move. No, angels did. They moved the house not once but three — COUNT ‘EM THREE!! — times (or is it four?).

Are these miracles merely the outworking of local traditions and pious cults in southern Italy? No. Popes have approved these stories as true.

More than forty-seven popes have in various ways rendered honour to the shrine, and an immense number of Bulls and Briefs proclaim without qualification the identity of the Santa Casa di Loreto with the Holy House of Nazareth. As lately as 1894 Leo XIII, in a Brief conceding various spiritual favours for the sixth centenary of the translation of the Santa Casa to Loreto, summed up its history in these words: “The happy House of Nazareth is justly regarded and honoured as one of the most sacred monuments of the Christian Faith; and this is made clear by the many diplomas and acts, gifts and privileges accorded by Our predecessors. No sooner was it, as the annals of the Church bear witness, miraculously translated to Italy and exposed to the veneration of the faithful on the hills of Loreto than it drew to itself the fervent devotion and pious aspiration of all, and as the ages rolled on, it maintained this devotion ever ardent.”

Then the Catholic Encyclopedia’s authors go on to list the reasons for the authenticity of these miracles:

(1) The reiterated approval of the tradition by many different popes from Julius II in 1511 down to the present day. This approval was emphasized liturgically by an insertion in the Roman Martyrologium in 1669 and the concession of a proper Office and Mass in 1699, and it has been ratified by the deep veneration paid to the shrine by such holy men as St. Charles Borromeo, St. Francis de Sales, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Alphonsus Liguori, and many other servants of God.

(2) Loreto has been for centuries the scene of numerous miraculous cures. Even the skeptical Montaigne in 1582 professed himself a believer in the reality of these (Waters, “Journal of Montaigne’s Travels”, II, 197-207).

(3) The stone on which the original walls of the Santa Casa are built and the mortar used in their construction are not such as are known in the neighbourhood of Loreto. But both stone and mortar are, it is alleged, chemically identical with the materials most commonly found in Nazareth.

(4) The Santa Casa does not rest and has never rested upon foundations sunk into the earth where it now stands. The point was formally investigated in 1751 under Benedict XIV. What was then found is therefore fully in accord with the tradition of a building transferred bodily from some more primitive site.

To their credit, the authors also acknowledge that this historical whopper of a story has not held up to scrutiny even from Roman Catholic historians:

It must be acknowledged, however, that recent historical criticism has shown that in other directions the Lauretan tradition is beset with difficulties of the gravest kind. These have been skilfully presented in the much-discussed work of Canon Chevalier, “Notre Dame de Lorette” (Paris, 1906). …The general contention of the work may be summarized under five heads: (1) From the accounts left by pilgrims and others it appears that before the time of the first translation (1291) there was no little cottage venerated at Nazareth which could correspond in any satisfactory way with the present Santa Casa at Loreto. … (2) Oriental chronicles and similar accounts of pilgrims are absolutely silent as to any change which took place in 1291. There is no word of the disappearance at Nazareth of a shrine formerly held in veneration there. … (3) There are charters and other contemporary documents which prove that a church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin already existed at Loreto in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, that is to say, before the epoch of the supposed translation. (4) When we eliminate certain documents commonly appealed to as early testimonies to the tradition, but demonstrably spurious, we find that no writer can be shown to have heard of the miraculous translation of the Holy House before 1472, i.e., 180 years after the event is supposed to have taken place. … (5) If the papal confirmations of the Loreto tradition are more closely scrutinized it will be perceived that not only are they relatively late (the first Bull mentioning the translation is that of Julius II in 1507), but that they are at first very guarded in expression, for Julius introduces the clause “ut pie creditur et fama est”, while they are obviously dependent upon the extravagant leaflet compiled about 1472 by Teramano.

It is clearly impossible to review here at any length the discussions to which Canon Chevalier’s book has given rise….the balance of recent Catholic opinion, as represented by the more learned Catholic periodicals, is strongly in his favour.

And yet, over one hundred years later, popes still use the site of the house to inspire the faithful and stories from journalists include explanations like this:

The Basilica of the Holy House in Loreto contains the walls of what tradition holds to be the house in which the Virgin Mary lived when the Angel Gabriel announced that she was to give birth to Jesus.

Which of course raises several questions:

1) Isn’t belief in the virgin birth hard enough? Why add a unit of angels with “Wide Load” banners attached below their wings?

2) If Popes can lead the laity astray on historical details like this, are they all that trustworthy on wayward priests, at the low end, or on what Jesus said (by way of oral tradition), at the high end?

3) But let’s not blame the hierarchy entirely. Why are Roman Catholic laity so willing to go along with such myths, legends, and fabrications?

Instances like this make plausible lines like the following from Lyman Beecher, a (trigger warning) New School Presbyterian who was not sure how Roman Catholics would do in a republic:

If [Roman Catholics] could read the Bible, and might and did, their darkened intellect would brighten, and their bowed down mind would rise. If they dared to think for themselves, the contrast of protestant independence with their thralldom, would awaken the desire of equal privileges, and put an end to an arbitrary clerical dominion over trembling superstitious minds. If the pope and potentates of Europe held no dominion over ecclesiastics here, we might trust to time and circumstances to mitigate their ascendance and produce assimilation. But for conscience sake and patronage, the are dependent on the powers that be across the deep, by whom they are sustained and nurtured; and receive and organize all who come, and retain all who are born, while by argument, and a Catholic education, they beguile the children of credulous unsuspecting protestants into their own communion. (Lyman Beecher, Plea for the West, 1834)

Whatever Happened to Mortal Sin?

Austen Ivereigh is another of those papal interpreters who explain to the rest of the world what the bishops and pope really mean. His advance copy for the upcoming synod of bishops on sexual abuse is the sort of piece Harry Emerson Fosdick could have composed:

The church’s task is not to lament and condemn, but rather to discern and reform.

We’re so used to hearing that Francis is “behind the curve” on the abuse issue. In truth, he is well ahead of it. While most Catholics, not least bishops and religious orders, remain fixated on cleaning up the institution, demonstrating that it is now transparent and accountable and regulated by new measures, the pope has grasped that keeping the focus on the institution in this way is precisely the problem. This is apparent in the texts he addressed to the Chilean bishops and the people of God last year, which in turn draw on his meditations on institutional desolation as a Jesuit back in the 1980s. Both those texts of three decades ago and last year’s letters have been collected and commented on by his Jesuit collaborators in Rome, Fr. Antonio Spadaro and Fr. Diego Fares, in a new book published in Italian and Spanish, Las Cartas de la Tribulación (“The Tribulation Letters”). If the book had come out later, it would doubtless have included Francis’s letter to the U.S. bishops at the start of their retreat at Mundelein seminary.

The heart of the pope’s message is a pithy little sentence that occurs back in his 1980s writings and again in his letters to the bishops of Chile and the United States: “Ideas you discuss, but situations have to be discerned.” Whenever the church faces a time of tribulation, there are various temptations it can succumb to: to recoil into itself, to put up defenses, to blame others, and essentially to argue—with others, and within itself. The church is prone to “ruminating” on its own desolation, lamenting and blaming, and at its worst falls into “victimism,” which, says Francis in his preface to the book, “conceals in its breast the resort to vengeance, which only feeds the evil it pretends to eliminate.”

All these are means of evading the real task, which is to seek the grace that is always on offer in desolation and tribulation: the grace of conversion. By accusing ourselves, not others—in humility, repentance, and self-correction—we open ourselves to that grace. We change. We are converted. We see where we went wrong. And with that new sight comes the chance to change course. The church’s task is not to lament and condemn, but rather to discern and reform.

What is so hard to discern about the sin of sex outside of marriage? Or how tough is it for bishops to tell the truth and be responsible with those under their oversight? It may require a little extra discernment to ponder the sort of sin that proceeds from victims for resenting their abusers or the bishops who covered up the tawdry activity. But do you really need to look to systems and cultures to figure out sinfulness or that the wages of sin is death?

It is breathtaking to see how much Rome has changed since Benedict XVI and John Paul II. It is even more staggering to see people like Ivereigh whitewash popes and bishops’ actions and responsibilities in the current climate. It makes you think the gates of hades are winning.

If You Worry about Pompeo, Why Not Pope Francis?

The Guardian has a story that should trouble 2kers. It’s about the influence of evangelicals, holding office, mind you, and responsible for foreign policy in the Middle East:

In his speech at the American University in Cairo, Pompeo said that in his state department office: “I keep a Bible open on my desk to remind me of God and his word, and the truth.”

The secretary of state’s primary message in Cairo was that the US was ready once more to embrace conservative Middle Eastern regimes, no matter how repressive, if they made common cause against Iran.

His second message was religious. In his visit to Egypt, he came across as much as a preacher as a diplomat. He talked about “America’s innate goodness” and marveled at a newly built cathedral as “a stunning testament to the Lord’s hand”.

The desire to erase Barack Obama’s legacy, Donald Trump’s instinctive embrace of autocrats, and the private interests of the Trump Organisation have all been analysed as driving forces behind the administration’s foreign policy.

The gravitational pull of white evangelicals has been less visible. But it could have far-reaching policy consequences. Vice President Mike Pence and Pompeo both cite evangelical theology as a powerful motivating force.

Just as he did in Cairo, Pompeo called on the congregation of a Kansan megachurch three years ago to join a fight of good against evil.

“We will continue to fight these battles,” the then congressman said at the Summit church in Wichita. “It is a never-ending struggle … until the rapture. Be part of it. Be in the fight.”

This is not good on two counts. First, it mixes the church and the state. Second, it uses bad theology for one of the mix’s ingredients. Good for Julian Borger to catch this.

But what about when the Vatican does the same thing (but without the Word of God)?

Though the week between Christmas and New Year’s is traditionally a fairly slow period on the Vatican beat, this is the Pope Francis era, when tradition and a Euro will buy you a cup of cappuccino in a Roman café.

Thus it’s entirely fitting that arguably one of the Vatican’s most important diplomatic encounters of 2018 came the day after Christmas, when Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Secretary of State, met Iraqi President Barham Salih in Baghdad.

During the meeting, Salih extended an invitation to Pope Francis to visit the Iraqi city of Ur, the Biblical city of Abraham, for an interreligious summit. It’s a trip that St. John Paul II desperately wanted to make in 2000, during a jubilee year pilgrimage to sites associated with salvation history, but the security situation at the time made such a trip impossible.

There was no immediate word from the Vatican whether Francis intends to accept the invitation, although there has been some media buzz about an outing coming as early as February. Doing so would be entirely consistent with his penchant for visiting both the peripheries of the world and also conflict zones.

Parolin was accompanied in the Dec. 26 meeting by the Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq, the largest of the Eastern churches in communion with Rome in the country, Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako. That was an important signal, in part underlining that the Vatican isn’t interested in pursuing a parallel diplomatic track with Baghdad that doesn’t prioritize the concerns of the local church.

(That’s a real concern, given the fact that critics insist the Vatican has done precisely the opposite in some other parts of the world, including China and Russia.)

According to a statement afterwards from the Iraqi president’s office, Salih and Parolin discussed the importance of different religions working together to combat extremist ideology “that does not reflect the beliefs and values of our divine messages and social norms.”

The statement also said the two leaders discussed the situation facing Christians in Iraq, talking “a great deal” about how to maintain their presence in the country and to assist in rebuilding their homes, businesses and places of worship in the wake of devastation caused by ISIS and other extremist Islamic forces.

Is it because the Vatican has been engaged in foreign policy for a millennium, compared to evangelicals who have only been at it maybe 30 years tops, that allows reporters to take Bishops’ influence on temporal rulers for granted?

Or are evangelicals scarier because with the executive branch of the U.S. federal government they have more power than the pope?

If so, that’s true audacity.

What Brett Kavanaugh Could Learn from the Holy Father

The asymmetry between the press’ coverage of the Roman Catholic church’s scandal and the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh are remarkable. Whistle-blowers in the church receive a level of scrutiny that the judge’s accusers do not.

But not to worry. If the press is as favorably inclined to Pope Francis as it seems, the Vicar of Christ may have just supplied one of his flock with the rationale he needs to defend himself tomorrow:

I take the Pennsylvania report, for example, and we see that the first 70 years there were so many priests that fell into this corruption, then in more recent times it has diminished, because the Church noticed that it needed to fight it in another way. In the old times these things were covered up, they even covered them up at home, when the uncle was molesting the niece, when the dad was molesting his sons, they covered it up because it was a very big disgrace… it was the way of thinking in previous times or of the past time. It is a principle that helps me to interpret history a lot.

A historic event is interpreted with the hermeneutic of the time period in which it took place, not as a hermeneutic of today passed on. For example, the example of indigenous people, that there were so many injustices, so much brutality, but it cannot be interpreted with the hermeneutic of today [now] that we have another conscience. A last example, the death penalty. The Vatican, when it was a State, a pontifical State, had the death penalty. In the end the state decapitations were 1870 more or less, a guy, [sic] but then the moral conscience grew, it is true that always there were loopholes and there were hidden death sentences. You are old, you are an inconvenience, I do not give you the medicine, it went so… it is a condemnation to social death. And about today… I believe with this I have responded.

Boys were boys at Georgetown Prep, and priests were priests in Pennsylvania.

Actually, in the case of Kavanaugh, Francis’ point has merit since movies like Animal House indicate what American society could bear back then about young men’s antics.

But can the pope really be serious that priests’ abuse of children or adolescents was part of the church’s outlook before 2002? Was it even acceptable for men called to celibacy to have sex, consensual or not?

Pope Francis may have said more than even Rod Dreher thinks.

How Can You Separate Church and State When the Pope Speaks (so much) about Both?

Did Vatican II pave the way for Pope Francis’ recent change development of the catechism’s teaching on capital punishment? Korey Maas thinks so even if the laity (so far the bishops aren’t giving much guidance) are divide:

Largely unremarked in the debate over capital punishment, however, are its striking parallels with the half-century-long, still unsettled, and also increasingly contentious intra-Catholic dispute concerning religious liberty. This is all the more curious because Pope Francis’s own remarks—now echoed in the language authorized for the Catechism—appear quite intentionally to echo important aspects of Dignitatis Humanae, the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom. According to that Declaration, for example, religious liberty is a right grounded in the “dignity of the human person.” As such, it is “inviolable.” This is precisely the language invoked by Pope Francis when he declared capital punishment impermissible because “it attacks the inviolability and the dignity of the person.”

Moreover, just as Dignitatis Humanae asserts that it “leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine,” while at the same time “developing” that doctrine, so too did Francis insist that his remarks in no way “signify a change of doctrine” or “any contradiction with past teaching”; they represent instead “the harmonious development of doctrine.” Both of these claims have proved controversial for the simple reason emphasized by Feser in the debate over capital punishment: “simply calling something a ‘development’ rather than a contradiction doesn’t make it so.” As he and Bessette argue, the Church’s earliest theologians acknowledged the legitimacy of capital punishment, in principle, and this conclusion was consistently affirmed by popes up through the twentieth century. The explicit rejection of that conclusion, they therefore reason, cannot logically be understood as a “development” of it.

But precisely the same logic applies, mutatis mutandis, to the apparent claims of Dignitatis Humanae, since it deems religious liberty an inviolable right while also claiming not to have changed “traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.” That traditional Catholic doctrine—as taught by the Church’s fathers, doctors, popes, and councils for more than a millennium—proclaimed it legitimate in both principle and practice to enforce that duty by means of coercion. Because Dignitatis Humanae appeared plainly to proscribe such coercion, however, it was not at all clear even to the bishops gathered at Vatican II how contradiction was actually being avoided. Indeed, just before the final vote on the Declaration, its official relator frankly admitted that “this matter will have to be fully clarified in future theological and historical studies.”

Once again the problem is that Roman pontiffs speak too much and all of Roman Catholicism’s history (and all those statements) make it hard to claim with a straight face that nothing has changed. History, in fact, is all about change (over time). So to present yourself as superior to Protestantism because you have 1500 years more history is also to open yourself up to the problem of trying to make coherent all of the church’s documents, laws, and doctrines. It is hard enough finding unity in the sixty-six books of the Bible. Now add to that endeavor 2000 years of papal pronouncements, council declarations, and revisions of canon law and you have work that could have made HAL, the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey, break down in 1982.

Maas puts a fine point on the problem this way:

Quite obviously, given such disparate opinions, the controversy concerning the Church’s teaching on religious freedom is far from settled. But it differs from that concerning capital punishment because, as Feser himself notes, it is one that “most Catholics, including conservative Catholics, have avoided.” And he is surely correct in his understanding of the reason for this: “the older teaching is extremely unpopular in modern times, and thus whatever its current doctrinal status, most Catholics are happy to let it remain a dead letter and leave its precise relationship to Dignitatis Humanae unsettled.” And yet, he finally concludes, “a question unanswered and ignored is still a real question.”

Indeed, it is precisely the same question raised in the controversy over capital punishment: can a practice endorsed for more than a millennium by the Church’s fathers, doctors, popes, and councils now be condemned as an immoral and inadmissible violation of human dignity?

Protestants may have account for many denominations, but Rome has 2 millennia of cats to herd.

What Rome and Mainline Protestants Have in Common

Fear of being small and on the margins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember the Paradigm

It feels like Old Life is on the cutting edge of commentary on Roman Catholicism. First, Edgardo Mortara surfaced last week for some at First Things and The American Conservative. Old Life was there and did that four years ago.

Now comes word that the pope’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin (so much for the spirituality of the church), thinks Pope Francis is tapping a paradigm shift in Roman Catholicism:

“At the end of the day, what resulted from Amoris Laetitia is a new paradigm that Pope Francis is carrying forward with wisdom, with prudence, and also with patience,” said Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State and effectively the most senior figure in the Church after the pope himself.

“Probably, the difficulties that came up [around the document] and that still exist in the Church, beyond certain aspects of its content, are due precisely to this change of attitude that the pope is asking of us,” Parolin said.

“It’s a paradigm change, and the text itself insists on this, that’s what is asked of us – this new spirit, this new approach! … Every change always brings difficulties, but these difficulties have to be dealt with and faced with commitment,” Parolin said.

Old Life was on paradigms a good five years ago.

But the bigger issue is whether Bryan Cross’ paradigm has caught up to his Holy Father.

Oh, What a Tangled Apologetic We Weave

When we convert to Roman Catholicism and wind up with Pope Francis.

Consider Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s recent explanation for the pope’s failure to answer those cardinals asking for clarification of Amoris Laetitia:

It is, if you like a religion based in an authoritative book, a creed, a catechism, a dogmatic systematic theology and, by extension a defined religious law. Those who favor a propositional faith like certainty and clarity.
Critics of propositional faith believe that, at best, the propositions are simply a framework or structure of belief, and that the real experience is far more complicated, but also far more exciting and real. They criticize those who like a propositional faith as being rigid, legalistic or Pharisaical. The critics of propositional faith like to emphasize the more subjective “encounter with Christ.” They advocate getting away from all the debates about doctrine or canon law, rolling up one’s sleeves and getting busy doing God’s work in the world.

Critics of propositional faith also believe that it is divisive. If “the encounter with Christ” is emphasized rather than propositional formulas of doctrine and morals, we will connect better with non Catholic Christians and people of faith and goodwill who are outside the boundaries of Christian belief. In other words, “doctrine is divisive” but if we focus on religious experience we are more likely to find common ground.

They also feel that a “propositional faith” is, by its nature, bound to the historical and philosophical constructs of the time and culture in which the propositions were asserted. So, the theology of Thomas Aquinas (they would argue) was fine for Europe of the thirteenth century, but it is rather clunky for the fast moving, fast changing global culture of the twenty first century. A faith that is not so propositional is more adaptable and fluid.

In reading the gospel it is difficult not to sympathize with those who criticize “propositional faith.” After all, Jesus’ main opponents were the religious people who were indeed legalistic, judgmental and bound to their laws and man made traditions. Jesus, on the other hand, waded in and “made a mess” to use Francis’ terminology. He defied the legalistic technicalities, met people where they were and brought healing, compassion and forgiveness.

Why does Pope Francis not answer his critics? I believe it is because he is not in favor of “propositional faith”. He wants Catholics to move beyond the technicalities, the details of doctrine and the constrictions of canon law to live out a Catholic life more like Jesus’–allowing for the complications and ambiguities of real life, meeting real people who face difficult decisions and are trying to be close to God while tiptoeing through the legalities and rules of being a Catholic Christian.

In other words, he does not answer his critics because he does not wish to play their game. He does not wish to be drawn into their legalistic arguments, but instead wants to continue to challenge them.

When you read Fr. Longenecker, though, on why he left Anglicanism for Roman Catholicism you start to wonder if he might have remained in the Church of England had he not been so propositional himself. Consider his lament about modernism which is non-propositional to the max:

Women’s ordination was a problem and the authority of Rome was the answer, but there was a deeper, underlying problem with the Anglican Church as I experienced it. The problem is modernism — a philosophical and theological position which is deeply opposed to historic Christianity.

The foundational problem with modernism is that it is anti-supernaturalist. The most foundational difficulty with the anti supernaturalism of the modernist is that he has an anti-Christian conception of God. For the modernist God is either totally immanent. That is He is ‘down here’ and not transcendent, or he is so totally transcendent as to be a sort of deist God who is ‘out there’ and does not intervene. What the modernist theologian cannot believe in is a God who is both immanent and transcendent–a God who is ‘out there’ but who touches this world and ultimately enters this world through the incarnation.. . .

If this is true–if Jesus’ death is no more than symbolic image, then the entire ecclesiological structure and sacramental system is no more than an archaic symbolical structure. It is a historic mythology that, at best, unlocks something within the human subconscious. It is a human construct that helps people to transition through their lives. . . .

So when they said they believed in the Incarnation they actually believed that “Jesus Christ was the most fulfilled human who ever lived. He was so self actualized that he achieved a kind of divine status. He, more than anyone else, was one with the god within.” When they ‘affirmed’ the Virgin Birth they really meant that Mary was an especially pure young woman before she had intercourse with Joseph or a Roman soldier. When they proclaimed from their pulpit on Easter Day, “Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!” what they meant was, “In some sort of wonderful way I would want to say that Jesus Christ continued to inspire his followers after his tragic death.”

I used to think that his lie was simply being told in the halls of academia, that the rot was really only in the universities, but of course it was not only there. It had been disseminated throughout the Anglican Church through the education of the clergy for the last fifty or sixty years. Of course there were pockets of true belief and there are still. In making this critique of Anglicanism I am not damning all Anglicans.

Now that the pope doesn’t respond to his critics, Fr. Dwight gets non-propositional.

No wonder converts are always winning.

Now, That’s Audacious

Ross Douthat takes the temperature of Roman Catholicism in the era of Francis:

In fact the conflicting inquisitions, liberal and conservative, are the all-but-inevitable result of the pope’s decisions to stir the church’s tensions into civil war again, and then to fight for the liberal side using ambiguous statements and unofficial interventions rather than the explicit powers of his office. Indeed, when Professor Faggioli complains about a “Catholic social media that has completely bypassed” the way the “Catholic Church has worked for centuries,” he might just as easily be describing Pope Francis, whose personalized style has made the lines of authority within the church maddeningly unclear.

On issues large and small, Francis has decentralized authority informally while retaining all the formal powers of his office and encouraged theological envelope-pushing without changing the official boundaries of what counts as Catholic teaching and what does not. This has effectively created two different versions of that teaching — the one on the books versus the one that the pope offers in his winks and nods — to which different Catholics can appeal.

In this environment, anyone who wishes to know what the pope really thinks is better off ignoring official Vatican offices and instead listening to the coterie of papal advisers who take to Twitter to snipe against his critics.

But even that kind of Kremlinology doesn’t completely clarify the pope’s intentions, which is why Francis’s liberalizing allies are frequently impatient with him and sometimes get out ahead of his intentions and find themselves reined in.

As a result the only Catholic certainty now is uncertainty.

What does that kind of uncertainty do to the narrative of so many converts that you go to Rome for the authority and certainty of timeless truth? Part of what it does is expose that unity and certainty are good in theory, and then comes a specific pope with all the authority and charism of the theory (they did not go away when Francis became pope — they inhere in the office). Protestants at least are honest about our disagreements. Roman Catholics cannot be:

This is a situation calculated to make everyone feel self-righteous and self-justified, to complain about toxic rhetoric while flinging insults frequently themselves.

It also places Catholic institutions — schools and parishes and universities and diocesan shops — in a very difficult position. The temptation, already evident, will be to shy away from conflict, to self-segregate theologically (liberal speakers to liberal campuses and parishes, vice versa for conservatives) and avoid even acknowledging the conflict.

But this approach is foolish. When the Supreme Pontiff is allowing argument to flourish and public division to increase, it does no good for institutions to pretend that none of this is happening — as though the average Catholic will somehow not notice that the leaders of the church are increasingly opposed to one another. (The poison of online debate is itself partially a reaction to this public pretense of tranquillity.)

All the more reason for my contention that Roman Catholicism would be better off without the papacy.