And Yet, Protestantism is Still Rodney Dangerfield

For all of Jonathan V. Last’s important observations about the seriousness of the current crisis in Roman Catholicism, Protestantism still gets no respect. Here are the possible outcomes of the contemporary scandal:

Some conservative Catholics, such as Princeton’s Robert P. George, have suggested that Francis ought to resign—especially if the Viganò letter is corroborated. This is an attractive idea and would align with the cause of justice. Anyone in the church hierarchy who knew, or should have known, about specific abusers in their midst should, at the least, be removed from any position of responsibility. They simply cannot be trusted. If you were to extend this view all the way to the bishop of Rome, there is a certain cleanliness to its logic—a sense that maybe the church could make a clean break and begin to make things right anew.

But it might be a cure worse than the disease.

In the last 600 years, only one pope has abdicated: Benedict XVI, the man who immediately preceded Francis. Two abdications in a millennium are an aberration. But two abdications in a row would have the practical effect of breaking the modern papacy. From here forward, all popes would be expected to resign their office rather than die in harness.

This expectation of resignation would, in turn, create incentives for the pope’s theological adversaries to fight and wound him, in the not-unreasonable hope that if they could make him unpopular, he could be shuffled out of the palace and they could try their luck with a new pontiff. Before you know it, you’d have polling data and opposition research and the papacy would become an expressly political office. No Catholic should yearn for this outcome.

The second option is capitulation. Catholics could shrug and give up. They could let Cardinal Wuerl live his best life and then slink off to a graceful retirement; they could make peace with Cardinal Cupich’s view that the church exists, first and foremost, to deal with global warming, or the minimum wage, or whatever else is trending on They could toe the dirt and accept sacramental same-sex marriages, even if it destroys the theology of the body. After all, times change. Religions change. And if you really trust in the Lord, then no change could come to His church without its being the will of the Father.

The third option is schism. There has been loose talk about schism since the early days of Francis’s pontificate. The conversation became less whimsical at the time of the synod and the dubia. It will become deadly serious if Viganò’s accusations are corroborated and Francis shelters in place. Even so, it remains one of those low-probability, extinction-level events that every Catholic should pray does not come to pass.

The fourth option is resistance. We are only at the current moment because the forces that conspired to elevate Francis refused, for decades, to leave the church, even though their desires were at odds with its teachings.

Finding Jesus in the ministry of Protestant churches is not an option.

No Christianity outside the Roman Catholic Church (Vatican II, the joint statement on justification with Lutherans, and Evangelicals and Catholics Together notwithstanding).


When you see gross deficiency in the church, you don’t shrug. You object as Phil Lawler does over news of a new Roman Catholic church in Boston:

in the past 50 years, the Archdiocese of Boston has opened zero new parish churches. Over the same span, roughly 125 parishes have been shut down or merged into “cluster” units.

This might be understandable, if the Boston’s Catholic population had disappeared. But it hasn’t—at least not according to the official statistics. On paper, it has grown. There were about 1.8 million Catholics registered in the area covered by the Boston archdiocese 50 years ago; today the official figure is 1.9 million.

The trouble, of course, is that most of those 1.9 million Catholics aren’t practicing the faith. Consequently it should be no surprise that their sons don’t aspire to the priesthood. There were just over 2,500 priests working in the archdiocese 50 years ago; now there are fewer than 300. That’s right; nearly 90% of the priests are gone. If you can’t replace the priests, you can’t keep open the parishes.

Let’s be frank. These figures are not a cause for concern; they are a cause for horror. Panic is never useful, but something close to panic is appropriate here. Things have gone terribly, terribly wrong.

Lawler also identifies four possible responses:

A) “This is a disaster! Stop everything. Drop what you’re doing. “Business as usual” makes no sense; this is a pastoral emergency. We don’t just need another “renewal” program, offered by the same people who have led us into this debacle. We need to figure out what has gone wrong. More than that. We know that the Gospel has the power to bring people to Christ; therefore it follows that we have failed to proclaim the Gospel. The fault lies with us. We should begin with repentance for our failures.”

B) “Don’t worry. Times change, and we have to change with them. Religion isn’t popular in today’s culture, but the faith will make a comeback sooner or later. We just need to keep plugging away, to have confidence, to remember God’s promise that the Church will endure forever.” . . .

C) “It doesn’t really matter whether or not people go to church on Sunday. As long as we’re all nice people, God in his mercy will bring us all to heaven.”

D) “Don’t bother me with your statistics. Actually the faith is stronger than ever. Our parish/diocese is vibrant! You’re only seeing the negative.

Lawler takes no comfort from the idea common refrain that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church:

You see what’s wrong with argument B, don’t you? Yes, the Lord promised that the Church would last through the end of time. But he did not promise that the Archdiocese of Boston (or your own diocese) would last forever. The faith can disappear, indeed has disappeared, from large geographical areas—northern Africa, for instance.

If the Archdiocese of Boston won’t last, what about the global diocese centered in the Eternal City?

Grammatico-Historical Interpretation of the Constitution

Lots of posts out there about Antonin Scalia as the faithful Roman Catholic. But the man sure sounded like he learned how to read the Constitution from Protestants:

Nonetheless, there is no escaping a verdict on his influence on American jurisprudence, and that verdict is not affected by the fact that he was a good buddy to prominent liberals. He was an advocate of two judicial ideologies, neither of which is intellectually tenable and which conflict with each other. Originalism was Scalia’s core ideological commitment, the idea that the Constitution should be interpreted as it was understood at the time of its ratification. He employed Originalism to question the idea that the Constitution is a “living document,” as liberal jurists held.

To be sure, there was a need for a conservative corrective after the high court starting snooping around the “penumbras” of the Constitution. As Justice Elena Kagan said in mourning Scalia’s death, “His views on interpreting texts have changed the way all of us think and talk about the law.” But, whether the Constitution is alive or not, the people whose government it intends to frame are most certainly alive and their circumstances change. Laws that cannot change with the lived circumstances of a people soon become disconnected from reality, and that disconnect will lead to the law being held in derision or ignored. . . .

Scalia’s other ideological commitment was to Textualism, the idea that the actual words must be interpreted in a kind of fundamentalist manner. This could conflict with Originalism. For example, an originalist would, like an historian, search for explanations as to what was intended by the drafters of a given text, to confirm that original intent and guarantee against latter day misinterpretations. But, Scalia famously loathed citations to legislative history. Textualism rests on the supposition that the Constitution is a self-interpreting text and if that were true, why would we need a Supreme Court? In practice, Textualism resulted in the conclusion that any given text meant exactly what Antonin Scalia thought it meant.

Of course, it’s not clear that Scalia’s hermeneutic was all positive. But it hardly sounds like it’s a product of deferring to the magisterium or to the development of dogma.

Those Were The Days

Makes you wonder why some want more religion in politics or why others object to Luther’s meager efforts at reform:

On Sunday May 9, 1527, an army descending from Lombardy reached the Janiculum. The Emperor, Charles V, enraged at Pope Clement VII’s political alliance with his adversary, the King of France, Francis I, had moved an army against the capital of Christendom. That evening the sun set for the last time on the dazzling beauties of Renaissance Rome. About 20,000 men, Italians, Spaniards and Germans, among whom were the Landsknecht mercenaries, of the Lutheran faith, were preparing to launch an attack on the Eternal City. Their commander had given them license to sack the city. All night long the warning bell of Campidoglio rang out calling the Romans to arms, but it was already too late to improvise an effective defense. At dawn on the 6th of May, favoured by a thick fog, the Landsknechts launched an assault on the walls, between St. Onofrio and Santo Spirito.

The Swiss Guards lined up around the Vatican Obelisk, resolute in their vow to remain faithful unto death. The last of them sacrificed their lives at the high altar in St. Peter’s Basilica. Their resistance allowed the Pope along with some cardinals the chance of escape. Across the Passetto di Borgo, the connecting road between the Vatican and Castel Sant’Angelo, Clement VII reached the fortress, the only bastion left against the enemy. From the height of the terraces, the Pope witnessed the terrible slaughter which initiated with the massacre of those who were crowding around the gates of the Castle looking for refuge, while the sick of Santo Spirito Hospital in Sassia were massacred, pierced by spears and swords.

This unlimited license to steal and kill lasted eight days and the occupation of the city nine months. We read in a Veneto account of May 10, 1527, reported by Ludwig von Pastor “Hell is nothing in comparison with the appearance Rome currently presents” (The History of Popes, Desclée, Rome 1942m, vol. IV, 2, p.261). The religious were the main victims of the Landsknechts’ fury. Cardinals’ palaces were plundered, churches profaned, priests and monks killed or made slaves, nuns raped and sold at markets. Obscene parodies of religious ceremonies were seen, chalices for Mass were used to get drunk amidst blasphemies, Sacred Hosts were roasted in a pan and fed to animals, the tombs of saints were violated, heads of the Apostles, such as St. Andrew, were used for playing football on the streets. A donkey was dressed up in ecclesiastical robes and led to the altar of a church. The priest who refused to give it Communion was hacked to pieces. The City was outraged in its religious symbols and in its most sacred memories”. (see also André Chastel, The Sack of Rome, Einaudi, Turin, 1983; Umberto Roberto, Roma capta. The Sack of the City from the Gauls to the Landsknechts, Laterza, Bari 2012).

Clement VII, of the Medici family, had paid no attention to his predecessor, Hadrian VI’s appeal for a radical reform of the Church. Martin Luther had been spreading his heresies for ten years, but the Roman Papal States continued to be immersed in relativism and hedonism. Not all Romans though were corrupt and effeminate, as the historian Gregorovius seems to believe. Not corrupt, were the nobles Giulio Vallati, Giambattista Savelli and Pierpaolo Tebaldi who hoisted a flag with the insignia “Pro Fide et Patria” and held the last heroic stance at Ponte Sisto. and neither were the students at Capranica College, who hastened to Santo Spirito and died defending the Pope in danger.

It is to that mass slaughter, the Roman ecclesiastical Institute owes its name “Almo”. Clement VII survived and governed the Church until 1534, confronting the Anglican schism following the Lutheran one, but witnessing the sack of the City and being powerless to do anything, was for him, much harder than death itself.

On October 17, 1528, the imperial troops abandoned a city in ruins. A Spanish eyewitness gives us a terrifying picture of the City a month after the Sack: “In Rome, the capital of Christendom, not one bell is ringing, the churches are not open, Mass is not being said and there are no Sundays nor feast days. The rich merchant shops are used as horse stables, the most splendid palaces are devastated, many houses burnt, in others the doors and windows broken up and taken away, the streets transformed into dung-heaps. The stench of cadavers is horrible: men and beasts have the same burials; in churches I saw bodies gnawed at by dogs. I don’t know how else to compare this, other than to the destruction of Jerusalem. Now I recognize the justice of God, who doesn’t forget even if He arrives late. In Rome all sins were committed quite openly: sodomy, simony, idolatry, hypocrisy and deceit; thus we cannot believe that this all happened by chance; but for Divine justice”. (L. von Pastor, History of Popes, cit. p. 278).

Pope Clement VII commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel, conceivably to immortalize the dramas the Church had undergone during those years. Everyone understood that it was a chastisement from Heaven. There were no lack of premonitory warnings: lightening striking the Vatican and the appearance of a hermit, Brandano da Petroio, venerated by the crowds as “Christ’s Madman”, who, on Holy Thursday 1527, while Clement VII was blessing the crowds in St. Peter’s shouted: “sodomite bastard, for your sins Rome will be destroyed. Confess and convert, for in 14 days the wrath of God will fall upon you and the City.”

The year before, at the end of August, the Christian army had been defeated by the Ottomans on the field of Mohacs. The Hungarian King, Louis II Jagiellon died in battle and Suleiman the Magnificent’s army occupied Buda. The Islamic wave in Europe seemed unstoppable.

Yet, the hour of chastisement was, as always, the hour of mercy. The men of the Church understood how foolishly they had followed the allurements of pleasures and power. After the terrible Sack, life changed profoundly. The pleasure-seeking Rome of the Renaissance turned into the austere and penitent Rome of the Counter-Reformation.

Shrugs only go so far.

What's In Your Kitchen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If It Could Happen to Jerusalem . . .

Why not to Rome (thoughts after a sermon this past Sunday on Rom 11:27-32)?

Lots of those who — come the nuns (hell) or extraordinary synods (high water) — claim that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Roman Catholic Church never seem to account for what happened to Israel. After all, didn’t God make promise after promise to the Israelites that their chosenness would last forever? Remember what God said to David:

Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’” (2 Samuel 7:8-16 ESV)

The apostle Paul spent a lot of time trying to account for the inclusion of Gentiles into the promises to Abraham, Moses, and David and one way he wound up doing so was by taking the promises to OT Israel in a spiritual sense. If you were looking for the persistence of outward Israel with the Temple, palace, and king, then you were in for serious disappointment. But if you thought of the promises as guaranteeing a spiritual kingdom and pilgrim people, then you could have an Israel that descended from Abraham and that included those not related by blood as Abraham’s offspring through faith (Gal 3:28-29).

So why would it be wrong to think about Protestantism’s relationship to Western Christianity in a fashion similar to what Paul wrote in Rom 11?

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.(Romans 11:17-24 ESV)

It is a bit of a stretch, but one could say that Protestants were grafted on to the olive tree of Western Christianity in ways comparable to the inclusion of Gentiles within a faith dominated by Jewish people. And just as the Israelites doubled-down on the formal aspects of their faith, so Roman Catholics insisted (and still do) on papal supremacy and apostolic succession and Vatican Bank Institute for the Works of Religion in ways that compromised a clear articulation of the gospel in the hands of Luther and Bucer. As if God’s people never go wrong, even when the Christian religion wouldn’t exist unless something went wrong in the Old Testament expression of salvation.

So when Paul adds,

As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. (Romans 11:28-32 ESV)

meaning that Christians and Jews were enemies because of the message of the gospel (embraced by the former and reject by the latter), he also suggests a way that Protestants should recognize the debt we owe to Roman Catholicism, the only game in town when it came to Western Christianity for at least a millennium. Protestants should — gulp — love Roman Catholics because they are forefathers in the faith. No Roman Catholicism, no Protestantism.

But with that love comes the recognition that Rome, like Jerusalem, failed.

Does Bryan Need to Talk to John and Francisco?

The way the Callers discuss infallibility you’d almost think that apostasy for the visible Roman Catholic Church is impossible. If truth is what the infallible magisterium determines, if a system of truth does not stand over the magisterium to which they need to conform, if Christian truth depends on the determinations of popes and councils of bishops, how could the Roman church ever be wrong?

But another strain of conservative Roman Catholicism doesn’t construe the truth the way Bryan does. John Zmirak, in fact, sounded very different from Bryan, even to the point of echoing Luther:

These men who are fracking the Church to produce the current “earthquake of mercy” are hungry for recognition and legitimacy. They want to be seen as leaders — which is why they dash out in front of every crowd, wherever it’s headed. But legitimacy is precisely what the bishops and even the pope will sacrifice if the Synod ends up approving the radical proposals that are before it.

If the pope permits divorced couples who now live in extramarital relationships to receive Holy Communion without repenting and promising celibacy, he will be sanctioning one of two things: adultery or polygamy. Marriage is, by Christ’s command, indissoluble. That was taught infallibly by the Council of Trent. If the pope denies that doctrine, if he re-shapes one of the seven sacraments so radically, he will be proving something that the Orthodox have been saying since 1870: That he is not infallible on matters of faith and morals.

That might not sound like such an enormous sacrifice; the Church got along quite well without that doctrine right up until Vatican I. But by flouting the Council of Trent, and proving that Vatican I was in fact mistaken, the pope would be doing much more. He would be demonstrating that such Councils themselves lacked divine authority — that they were not like Nicaea or Chalcedon, the early Councils that built up Christian doctrine. Instead Councils such as the Lateran, Trent, and Vaticans I and II, would be merely local Western synods, exactly as the Orthodox have been insisting since 1054. In other words, the pope would be proving that Roman Catholic assertions of papal authority are grossly exaggerated, and that the Eastern Orthodox have the better claim as the heirs of the twelve apostles.

There’s an irony here, since the Orthodox have permitted the quasi-polygamous “Kasper option” for more than 1,000 years. But the Orthodox make no pretense of wielding infallible authority. They accept the early Councils of the Church (which took place well before 1054) and argue among themselves over how to apply them. They could be wrong.

And on marriage, the Orthodox are wrong. But Rome has no such wiggle room. The claims of the papacy are brave, expansive — and empirically falsifiable. If Rome adopts the Orthodox practice of marriage, that will falsify them. The mouse will have died in the maze.

If this happens, it would not prove that Luther or Calvin were right. Instead it would show that papal claims are false, that God has not left the Church with a central authority for the interpretation of doctrine, and that the Orthodox model is the only viable choice for sacramental Christians.

In point of fact, such an outcome would prove Luther and Calvin correct because they made Christ and his word, not the bishops of the church, the standard for proclamation and ministry. The Protestant outlook on biblical authority winds up being so commonsensical.

Francisco Jose Soler Gil piles on with a reminder that popes can be “calamitous”:

When can we say that a Pope is calamitous? Of course, it is not enough for it that the Pontiff support false opinions on this or that issue. Because a Pope, as any other man, will necessarily ignore many matters, and have erroneous convictions on many others. And therefore it could happen that a Pope who is an aficionado on stamp or coin collecting could make grave mistakes regarding the value or date or certain stamps or coins. When rendering his opinion on matters that are not of his competence, a Pope has greater possibilities of erring than of being right. Exactly like you and me, dear reader. Therefore, if a Pope showed some inclination on making public his opinions on the art of pigeon-breeding, ecology, economy, or astronomy, the Catholic expert on such matters would do well in enduring patiently the outlandish blurbs of the Roman pontiff on matters that, naturally, are alien to his Cathedra. The expert will naturally lament the eventual errors, and more generally the lack of prudence that some declarations make evident. But an imprudent and loquacious Pope is not for this reason alone a calamitous Pope.

On the other hand, [a Pope] is, or can thus be, when he, by word and deed, causes damages to the treasure of the faith of the Church, temporarily obscuring aspects of the image of God and of the image of Man that the Church has the duty to defend, transmit, and deepen.

But can there be such a case as this?… Well, in fact it has happened already several times in the history of the Church. When Pope Liberius (4th cent.) – the first non-canonized Pope – gave in to strong Arian pressures, he accepted an ambiguous position regarding this heresy, leaving in the lurch the defenders of the Trinitarian dogma, such as Saint Athanasius; when Pope Anastasius II (5th cent.) flirted with the defenders of the Acacian schism; when Pope John XXII (14th cent.) taught that the vision of the God by the just does not occur before the Last Judgment; when the Popes of the period known as “Great Western Schism” (14th-15th cent.) excommunicated each other; when Pope Leo X (16th cent.) not only intended to pay for his luxuries with the selling of indulgences, but also to theoretically defend his power to do so, etc, etc, a part of the treasure of the faith remained obscured for a more or less lengthy period due to their actions and omissions, therefore creating moments of huge internal tension within the Church. The Popes responsible for these must be properly called “calamitous”.

One thing that is striking about Gil’s advice is how much it sounds like Machen’s counsel to conservative Presbyterians during the 1930s:

(7) Do not follow the instructions of the Pope in that which deviates from the treasure of the Church.

If a Pope would teach doctrines or would try to impose practices that do not correspond to the perennial teaching of the Church, summarized in the catechism, he cannot be supported nor obeyed in his intent. This means, for example, that priests and bishops are under the obligation to insist on traditional doctrine and practice, rooted in the deposit of the faith, even at the cost of exposing themselves to being punished. The lay faithful must likewise insist on teaching traditional doctrine and practices in their area of influence. Under no circumstances, not even out of blind obedience or fear of reprisals, is it acceptable to contribute to the spreading of heterodoxy or heteropraxis.

(8) Do not financially support collaborationist dioceses.

If a Pope would teach doctrines, or would impose practices, that do not correspond to the perennial teaching of the Church, summarized in the catechism, diocesan Pastors should serve as a wall of contention. But history shows that bishops do not always react with sufficient energy when faced with these dangers. Even worse, they at times endorse, for whichever reasons, the efforts of the calamitous pontiff. The lay faithful who lives in a diocese ruled by such a Pastor must therefore remove his financial support to his local church while the inappropriate situation persists. Obviously, this does not apply to aids that are directly destined to charitable ends, but it does apply to all the rest. This also applies to any kind of collaboration with the diocese, whether it be for example some kind of volunteer work or institutional position.

Of course, Bryan could be right and John and Francisco wrong. But he sure seems to be outnumbered.

Imagine if Protestants Had Received Such a Hearing

A report from the early days of the Synod in Rome:

The first days of discussions at the global meeting of Catholic bishops have focused partly on how to change “harsh language” used by the church in discussing family life and on acknowledging that people grow in faith slowly, according to Vatican observers of the meeting.

One theme said to be included in 70 speeches made by prelates over the past two days is how the prelates label people with words that “are not necessarily words that invite people to draw closer to the church.”

Briefing reporters Tuesday on the event, known as a Synod of Bishops, Basilian Fr. Thomas Rosica said one or more synod members specifically referred to three terms commonly used by the church:

“Living in sin”: a reference to couples who live together before marriage;
“Intrinsically disordered”: a reference to gay people; and
“Contraceptive mentality”: a reference made by some prelates to refer to a society that does not respect life.

“To label people … does not help in bringing people to Christ,” said Rosica, summarizing the synod member. “There was a great desire that our language has to change in order to meet the very difficult situations.”

Imagine just how much Trent’s “let him be anathema” harshed Ursinus’ buzz.

What's Good for the Goose. . .

If you’re tempted to think Protestantism is bankrupt (inspired by Dwight Longenecker):

1. Remember History – Every Catholic Protestant should read some church history. An excellent, readable summary is Eamon Duffy’s Saints and Sinners which is a history of the papacy. The history of the church reads like the Old Testament. In other words, it is full of saints and sinners, triumphs and tragedies, horror and holiness, weakness and wickedness, strength and sanctity. It’s all there, and that’s why it is authentic and human and divine and real. The church has always been afflicted with persecution from without and corruption from within. That’s because it’s made up of human beings like you and me who are a work in progress. Take a deep breath. It’s not much different now than it always has been. That’s why we had a Reformation.

2. Remember that Catholic means “Universal” – The Catholic Church Protestantism is not a sect. It is not a nationalistic church or an ethnic church. It is not dependent on a particular diocese that has ties to a particular empire. It is not a single minded, mono vision institution. It’s universal. It transcends time. It transcends particular cultures. It transcends particular cultural obsessions. It takes the big view and the wide perspective. This means it includes people who are not like you. They may disagree with you completely. They may be wrong….very wrong, and guess what? You might just be wrong about some stuff too. Get over it.

3. Remember that we’re family – Those people you disagree with? They’re family. You are convinced that the Bible and the magisterium confessions support your views. Guess what, they think the Bible and the magisterium confessions support their views. You think they’re wrong? They think you’re wrong. However, they’re still your brothers and sisters. Brothers and sister fight sometimes. That’s okay, in fact it’s healthy. The Church Protestantism is not some sort of religious Ozzie and Harriet where everything is hunky dory all the time. So you disagree and fight? Big deal. Just make sure you kiss and make up before you turn off the lights. Pray for unity — spiritual not institutional.

4. Don’t Forget the Church’s Teachings – Mother Church is there to teach us. Her teaching corrects us and directs us. The church’s teachings are the bedrock on which our views are founded are summaries of Scripture, the bedrock on which are views are founded. None of us should be Be careful about spouting our own opinions. We should simply put forward the Catholic Christian faith. However–we should also remember that the same teaching that we espouse is viewed from a different perspective by different Catholics Christians. Depending on their personality type, their education and their background they will emphasize different aspects of the church’s their communion’s teachings. They may stress family life, sexual morality and the anti abortion cause. You may stress peace and justice issues, radical discipleship and the preferential option for the poor. That’s okay. Learn to value the other perspective. That’s unfortunate. Learn to understand the spirituality of the church.

5. Allow People to Mess Up – Did a bishop or priest pastor or assembly make a call that displeases you? Take a deep breath. You don’t have to play Savonarola. Maybe he made a mistake and maybe you don’t know how complicated his decision making process was. It’s easy to be an armchair bishop, but if you’re not a priest or bishop you have not a clue how difficult the job is. You don’t have any idea the complexities of relationships, the real life dilemmas, the pastoral decisions and impossible situations that have to be dealt with. Instead of yelling about this priest’s apostasy or that bishop’s “inflexibility” this priest being “too rigid” or that bishop being too lax, why not cut them a break? These guys have a tough job. Why not back off and pray for them a bit more? But always be on the look out for liberalism. History shows that churches often say one thing and mean another.

6. Trust God – God’s in charge. Don’t you have faith? Why all the unhappiness about the church? Could it be that the unhappiness is in you and you’re projecting it outward and blaming others? Why not pray more and realize that God is still in charge. Don’t you see how he works in the world through our human weakness? Surely that’s the whole message of salvation history. God is working his purpose out not through everything being perfect all the time, but through our tragedies and travesties, through our failures and foibles, through our sin and sorrow. This is the beauty of the faith: that he turns the cross of Christ–the worst thing that could happen into the best thing that could happen. He’s doing the same thing with this messy institution we call the church Protestantism. In his mysterious divine providence he’s using the church to accomplish his way in the world. Things will be well. All things will be well. Trust God.

7. Remember John 3:16-17 – At heart the basic message is the only message: “God so love the world that he gave his only Son so that all who believe in him shall have everlasting life. God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.” Everything else springs from that message, and if we get too caught up in all the other stuff–even if the cause is good and righteous and our views are true and beautiful and good the variety of churches and denominations, but we forget this main message, then everything else we say and do will be skewed, our faith will be off track and our message will be meaningless.

8. Pray More – I mean really pray. Pray that God will bless the means of grace and that pastors will be faithful to God’s word. Not only going through the actions and doing all the right devotions. I mean a heart rending, soul searching, mind bending, life changing, no holds barred, give it all you’ve got kind of prayer. Pray to know Jesus Christ and the power of his sufferings. Pray that you might be totally and utterly his. Pray that you might be made a saint before it is too late. Realize that your souls salvation and your walk with God and your love for Christ and your love for others is the one main thing. Remember that neither the gates of hell nor the acids of modernity will overcome God’s redemptive plan. Focus on that and you’ll find that all those other things you are so worried about fall into line. It’s not that they are not important, its just that they are not the most important.

9. Remember to Take a Deep Breath and Be Thankful – Do you really have to get so worked up about the problems you can do nothing about? Love God. Love your family. Love your friends. Repent of your sins. Worship God. Be happy for once. Yes the world’s in a terrible state. It always has been. Yes, we’re on the brink of disaster. The Titanic has always been about to sink. Yes, the church Protestantism is clattering along like an old jalopy. It has been so from the beginning. Yes, there are failures, disasters, traitors and cowards in the church. Are you sure you’re not one of them? If so, smile and be wrong. There is more grace is accepting that you are wrong than in insisting that you are right. Be thankful and do something beautiful, kind and good. Instead of complaining that the world is a terrible place try in your small way to make it a better place.

10. Be a You Are A Saint – The only great tragedy is not to be a saint. Read the lives of the saints and learn from them. Do not just read about them, but try to emulate them. Take a great risk of faith. Go on the adventure. Work with the poor, give sacrificially and live sacrificially. Life is short and time is wasting. Don’t waste too much of it being miserable and blaming others. Get with God and Go with God and be one of his joyful warriors. Be a saint and everything else will suddenly make sense. Even though [your] conscience accuse [you], that [you] have grossly transgressed all the commandments of God, and kept none of them, and [are] still inclined to all evil; notwithstanding, God, without any merit of [yours], but only of mere grace, grants and imputes to [you], the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ; even so, as if [you] never had had, nor committed any sin: yea, as if [you] had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ has accomplished for [you]; inasmuch as [you] embrace such benefit with a believing heart.

Makes me wonder if Father Longenecker would have left the Protestant fold if he had been so charitable with Protestant failings or understood the saving work of Christ.

There is Antinomianism and then there is Antinomianism

Protestants wouldn’t seem to have to worry too much about lacking moral fiber.

Here is how H. L. Mencken perceived moralism in the United States circa 1920:

The man of morals has a certain character, and the man of honour has a quite different character. No one not an idiot fails to differentiate between the two, or to order his intercourse with them upon an assumption of their disparity. What we know in the United States as a Presbyterian is pre-eminently the moral type. Perhaps more than any other man among us he regulates his life, and the lives of all who fall under his influence, upon a purely moral plan. In the main, he gets the principles underlying that plan from the Old Testament; if he is to be described succinctly, it is as one who carries over into modern life, with its superior complexity of sin, the simple and rigid ethical concepts of the ancient Jews. And in particular, he subscribes to their theory that it is virtuous to make things hot for the sinner, by which word he designates any person whose conduct violates the ordinances of God as he himself is aware of them and interprets them. Sin is to the Presbyterian the salient phenomenon of this wobbling and nefarious world, and the pursuit and chastisement of sinners the one avocation that is permanently worth while. . . . Every single human act, he holds, must be either right or wrong – and the overwhelming majority of them are wrong. He knows exactly what these wrong ones are; he recognizes them instantly and infallibly, by a sort of inspired intuitions; and he believes that they should all be punished automatically and with the utmost severity. No one ever heard of a Presbyterian overlooking a fault, or pleading for mercy for the erring. (The American Credo, 51, 52, 53)

Forty years later when a Protestant (Robert McAfee Brown) looked at Roman Catholicism and a Roman Catholic (Gustave Weigel) looked at Protestantism, Weigel’s impression was similar to Mencken’s:

The Reformer’s strong rhetoric against the value of works could be interpreted as a form of antinomianism. “Sin valiantly and believe more valiantly.” Yet all the Reformers were against sin in all its forms and shapes. Calvin’s Geneva was no place for sin or worldliness. Virtue was the strongly enforced law of the city. In the history of Protestantism we do not find antinomianism as a practice except perhaps in some exotic little groups not recognized as genuine by the mass of Protestants. In all Protestant communities it does make a difference whether you behave yourself or don’t. Works are important, very important indeed. Catholic cultures are rarely as strict as communities where a strong calvinism prevails. Strangely enough, Catholicism always is more concerned with the faith of its members than with their works. For the Catholic the loss of faith is the greatest loss. With faith alive, pardon is possible. Where faith is absent, there is no pardon. (An American Dialogue, 177)

Postscript: the observations of Roman Catholics and Protestants in the Brown-Weigel exchange are striking for showing how different the Christian landscape is today in the U.S. On the theme of moralism, Weigel also had this to say:

When the Catholic hears a Protestant sermon he notes a number of things. In most cases the sermon is on a moral theme, and could be heard without much, if any, change in a Catholic church. (135)

Or this:

There is of course a Protestant prudery just as there is a Catholic prudery, but I am not referring to either. It seems to the Catholic that the Protestant is not too worried about birth-control, obscenity in the theatre or in print, and exhibitionism in public. Here the Protestant stands for liberty while the Catholic considers it license. These different attitudes produce friction in the national community. The Protestant thinks the Catholic immoral because he drinks and plays Bingo — and it gives the Protestant satisfaction. The Catholic thinks the Protestant immoral because he will not fight birth-control and it makes the Catholic feel morally superior.

These attitudes to drinking, gambling, and sex are very conspicuous but somehow they are not too significant. The real difference between the two communities is their distinctive conceptions of virtue. The Protestant esteems the natural virtues while the Catholic makes more of the supernatural virtues. The Protestant thinks highly of truthfulness, sobriety, simplicity, reliability, and industriousness. The Catholic most esteems humility, mortification, penance, chastity, poverty, and abnegation. Both admire charity, but Catholic charity is warmer and more personal, while Protestant charity is more efficient and better organized. . . . The result of the different tempers of moral conception will be Protestant reserve, stiffness and gravity in contrast to the Catholic’s tendency toward spontaneity, Baroque display and even Rabelaisian earthiness. (143-144)