(more of) Show Me Jesus

To hear some of the recent commentary about Rome’s relationship to modern society, you might wonder about the significance of Jesus. The young journalist, Elizabeth Bruenig, whom Presbyterians baptized, Methodists discipled, and Jews educated (at Brandeis), explained her conversion as finding a refuge from modernity:

Yet the church remains firm, unmoved by this current in modernity. And while it is impossible to speak for all Protestants—and important to note there exists a vast array of opinions on property ownership within the Protestant tradition, some hewing close to the Catholic view—the Catholic Church, at least, bases its position on property in a moral universe far more stable than that which has been constructed since the Reformation. And by the time I neared the end of my time in college, I had become convinced it was the only firm ground from which a Christian could fight back against the domination of the poor by the rich, against poverty, against the destruction of families and communities at the hands of businesses and their political lackeys, against a world stripped of meaning.

I don’t know. To say that the church remains unmoved while failing to mention the about-face involved in the 1864 Syllabus of Errors when Piux IX sneered at the church making any adjustment to modernity (does she really want that?) and the 1962 Second Vatican Council where John XXIII called the church to update its relationship to modern society is quite the claim. You might think a journalist would look a little more carefully at her sources.

Then there is praise from Anthony Annett at Commonweal for the Jesuit article that condemned U.S. evangelicals and Roman Catholics together for an “ecumenism of hate”:

the basic thesis is certainly correct—that a small but vocal and influential segment of American Catholicism is now far more comfortable with the world of right-wing political evangelicalism than with global Catholicism. (Commonweal’s editors commented on it here, and contributing editor Massimo Faggioli wrote on it here.) This world is a Calvinist world, manifesting politically in the twin ideas that the United States is God’s chosen country with a unique destiny in the world’s history, which gives rise to a dualistic outlook, and that God bestows material rewards on his favored, which leads to a full-throttled embrace of capitalism. This latter pathology comes in different levels, of course, the nadir being the appalling “prosperity gospel.”

Annett too fails to mention how a church that so resolutely opposes modernity (according to Bruenig) is so susceptible to its members doing back flips to join Calvinists in the public square. If you have all that history, authority, and tradition, what happened?

For example, at the church frequented by my in-laws in New Jersey, I’ve heard homilies glorifying the military, calling for higher military spending, criticizing Muslim immigrants, and comparing the hill of Calvary with the hill of Iwo Jima. Seriously. This is horrific, but the overwhelmingly white middle-class Mass-goers seem to lap it up. It’s no wonder that they find no contradiction between Catholicism and Trumpism. It’s no wonder that Donald Trump enjoys their support while the rest of the Catholic world views with him with askance and horror.

Clearly, episcopacy has some bugs that not even papal infallibility (determined just on the heels of the Syllabus of Errors) cannot fix.

In fact, as much as Annett and Bruenig believe that real Roman Catholicism is on the side of left-of-center politics, Matthew Schmitz agrees but also notices how out of step Rome’s liberalism is with Rome’s history. The ultramontanism that sustained Pius IX’s quest for papal infallibility also supported integralism, a form of church-state relations that conservatives and liberals in the United States might find a tad overwrought:

Integralism was the system in which church and state collaborated to secure man’s peace on this world and salvation in the next. Joseph de Maistre defended it with a formula binding pope to king: “No public morals nor national character without religion, no European religion without Christianity, no true Christianity without Catholicism, no Catholicism without the Pope, no Pope without the supremacy that belongs to him.” Essential to this arrangement was the idea that the state must be subordinate to the Church.

With Francis has come a different kind of integralism:

Today a new kind of integralism operates, in which the Church is subordinated to the state as the two conspire to uphold liberal values. If one were to update de Maistre’s syllogism, it would go something like: No cheap consumer goods or avoidance of genocide without liberalism, no liberalism without true Christianity, no true Christianity without an undogmatic Church, no undogmatic Church without a liberalising Pope, no liberalising Pope without accountability to the age and freedom from tradition.

It is in this context that one must understand the Vatican’s recent sally against America in the unofficial papal organ La Civiltà Cattolica. Written by Fr Spadaro and Marcelo Figueroa, another papal confidant, the article is not merely an expression of anti-American spite or an attack on ecclesial enemies. It is an attempt to defend the liberal order against what is perceived, rightly or wrongly, as an existential threat.

Sorry, but I’m just not seeing the unity or the authority that wow converts. Plus, did you notice that all of these opinions come from the laity. What would make Roman Catholicism from Protestantism is if lay members kept quiet and deferred to their ecclesiastical superiors. I wonder what that kind of pre-modern ecclesiastical order would do to those converts who find in Rome a horse that rides even higher than the Bible or the Holy Spirit.

Meanwhile, do Roman Catholics actually worry about personal sins, God’s judgment, and whether they are going to purgatory?

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The Surprising Admissions Converts Make

David Mills tries to defend being casual about sin, though he rebrands it as familiarity:

In the Protestant world of my youth, nearly everything was a matter of life or death. The Evangelicals made your salvation a drama that depended on you making a decisive commitment. They loved the drama of a sobbing sinner stumbling forward at the altar call.

The mainliners didn’t sweat salvation the same way, but they made your social conscience almost as crucial. God expected you to respect picket lines, protest the war, protect the environments, eat union-grown grapes.

But the Catholics. Gosh, they didn’t seem to sweat anything. The few Catholics I knew — my college town had more Wiccans than Catholics — didn’t seem vexed by human sins, personal or social. They might like devotion and care about social causes, but they didn’t pursue them as intensely as the Protestants I knew.

Older people told me that Catholics had confession. They could axe-murder an entire middle school, go to confession, and Whoosh! they were okay. God was happy with them again. The axe murder? No big deal. Confession magically wiped the slate clean no matter what you did.

Except that the whoosh only got you as far as purgatory if you went to confession.

But now Mills sees the benefits of Rome’s lack of rigor:

After being a Catholic for a few years, I can understand why people think the Church is too casual about sin. I can be too casual about it. It’s easy to use confession as a forgiveness machine and the Mass as a medicine that cures you without your having to do anything. I know how easily you can presume on God’s love.

But that’s just the risk God chose to take when he gave us the Church and her sacraments. Our Protestant friends are not wrong in their criticism, but they miss what God Himself is doing through the Church. He flings his grace around, as we heard in last Sunday’s gospel reading. He lets some fall on rocky or thorny ground, so that some will fall on fertile ground. He gives us gifts we can abuse, because he wants to give us life.

What Mills fails to add (aside from the punishment for mortal sins) is that Protestants exalt Christ. To be hard on sin is to take seriously the cross. Christ died to save sinners from the penalty of sin. That shows that God was not very casual about sin. It also means Christ didn’t die to give sinners a second chance — in purgatory.

Founding Fineprint

Lots of apologists insist that the Church of Rome is the one that Jesus Christ founded. That strikes me as a real slight to the Eastern churches and especially to the Church of Jerusalem where Jesus ministered. After all, Tertullian didn’t ask, “What Hath Rome to do with Athens?”

Now it turns out that the original language of the church that Jesus founded was not Latin but Greek:

First, we should know that the Apostles all spoke Greek in addition to their native Aramaic. It was the language of education and business. In Galilee (Galilee of the Gentiles as it was known in Palestine) a Jew had to know Greek if he wanted to talk to a gentile. Perhaps Our Lord Himself spoke Greek with the Roman centurion and Pilate. In the synagogues the Jews read from the Hebrew translation of the Greek translation (the Septuagint) of the Old Testament. Second, all of the New Testament — with the exception of Saint Matthew’s original Gospel which was written in Aramaic — was inspired in Greek. Third, when Saint Peter came to Rome the Jews residing there spoke Greek, the whole Mediterranean world did. Saint Peter offered Mass in Greek. Around his tomb, deep in the catacombs under Vatican hill (beneath Saint Peter’s main altar), the faithful who were buried all around the Apostle had “Peter pray for us” written in Greek on their own tombs. Fourth, the Roman Latin Rite grew slowly out of Itala Latin which was spoken by the gentile converts in Italy and North Africa and used in the liturgy sometime after Greek fell into desuetude in the West. Classical Latin (Ciceronian) was not used in the liturgy, but was used by the well-educated fathers, such as Tertullian, Saint Cyprian, Saint Hilary of Poitiers, Saint Ambrose, and Saint Augustine, in their writings. By the fourth century, Itala Latin, which was rather fluid, dominated in most of Italy and North Africa. Enter Saint Jerome (d. 420). His Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible facilitated the birth of what developed into “ecclesiastical,” Church Latin. Many Greek words found their way into Church Latin on account of their theological and scriptural importance. Ecclesia (church) is only one such word — there was no word in Latin adequate enough to convey such a Greek concept. By the sixth century, Latin became the standard for the Roman liturgy, as we see in the Leonine Sacramentary and later the Gelasian. By the time of Gregory the Great (d. 604) the Latin Canon of the Mass was fixed (canonized) with the addition of a number of Roman martyrs in the Memoriam and the Nobis Quoque Peccatoribus. The Roman Canon remained untouched for nearly fourteen hundred years.

If you want to be the Church that Jesus founded, shouldn’t you use the original language of the apostles you’re claiming to represent?

That’s not what Pope John XXIII thought:

Universal

Since “every Church must assemble round the Roman Church,”8 and since the Supreme Pontiffs have “true episcopal power, ordinary and immediate, over each and every Church and each and every Pastor, as well as over the faithful”9 of every rite and language, it seems particularly desirable that the instrument of mutual communication be uniform and universal, especially between the Apostolic See and the Churches which use the same Latin rite.

When, therefore, the Roman Pontiffs wish to instruct the Catholic world, or when the Congregations of the Roman Curia handle matters or draw up decrees which concern the whole body of the faithful, they invariably make use of Latin, for this is a maternal voice acceptable to countless nations.

Immutable

Furthermore, the Church’s language must be not only universal but also immutable. Modern languages are liable to change, and no single one of them is superior to the others in authority. Thus if the truths of the Catholic Church were entrusted to an unspecified number of them, the meaning of these truths, varied as they are, would not be manifested to everyone with sufficient clarity and precision. There would, moreover, be no language which could serve as a common and constant norm by which to gauge the exact meaning of other renderings.

But Latin is indeed such a language. It is set and unchanging. it has long since ceased to be affected by those alterations in the meaning of words which are the normal result of daily, popular use. Certain Latin words, it is true, acquired new meanings as Christian teaching developed and needed to be explained and defended, but these new meanings have long since become accepted and firmly established.

Non-vernacular

Finally, the Catholic Church has a dignity far surpassing that of every merely human society, for it was founded by Christ the Lord. It is altogether fitting, therefore, that the language it uses should be noble, majestic, and non-vernacular.

In addition, the Latin language “can be called truly catholic.”10 It has been consecrated through constant use by the Apostolic See, the mother and teacher of all Churches, and must be esteemed “a treasure … of incomparable worth.”11. It is a general passport to the proper understanding of the Christian writers of antiquity and the documents of the Church’s teaching.12 It is also a most effective bond, binding the Church of today with that of the past and of the future in wonderful continuity.

Tell me it’s not odd when you insist on a language that God refused to use when he revealed the gospel.

Spiritual Discipline

Notice how devoting yourself to fasting and prayer winds up concentrating your mind on what to eat:

Here are some meatless Friday suggestions:

Cheese Quesadillas. In the unforgettable words of Napoleon Dynamite’s grandmother, “Just fix your self a dang QuesaDILLA.” Our family is all about the quesadilla on Friday. Cheap. Easy. Kids love them. Make big ones and use a pizza cutter to cut them up into slices for everybody. Add some sour cream and hot sauce for the parents, maybe some chips and home-made guacamole. You’ve got a great meal.

Nachos. A variation on quesadillas. My wife Joy gets cookie sheets out, covers them with chips and grated cheese and then puts them in the oven. Bring them out and put them in front of the kids and watch them disappear. Super cheap and kids love it. For adults, add sour cream, salsa, chives, guacamole, etc. You can also add refried beans – but make sure you get the kind without animal fat/lard since this would violate the Friday meatless rule.

Pizza. Cheese pizza for the kiddos. Margarita pizza for the parents. Perfect.

Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Tomato Soup. This is a nice simple meal and surprisingly our kids love it. You dip the grilled cheese in the soup. Comfort food. For parents, add some pesto to your grilled cheese sandwich. Also, adults like mixing up the cheeses – try different kinds.

Pasta and Marina. Fast. Easy. Children love. It costs next to nothing.

Fettuccine Alfredo. Another meatless meal that most people like. Very filling. Lots of energy.

Mac and Cheese. A good option for kids – especially when mom and dad are leaving on a date. Meatless. Inexpensive.

Vegetable Lasagna. This may not be a winner with the kids, but adults like it. It’s a lot of work to prepare, though.

Egg Salad Sandwich. My wife and I really like egg salad sandwiches with tomato and lettuce.

Tuna Salad Sandwich. Honestly, this can get old, but you change it up additions like cucumbers, olives, or even curry powder. You can get tuna sandwiches at Subway on Fridays.

Fish and Chips. My go to Friday meal, especially if at a restaurant.

Salmon. During the year, when we want a nice Friday meal, we go for salmon. Healthy. Lean. Not hard to prepare. I grill it on a cedar plank. Fantastic. This is a nice option if you have friends coming over for dinner on a Friday night, but don’t want to bore them with mac and cheese. You can also mix the grilled salmon with greens, fruits, and nuts for a beautiful salad.

Cheese Enchiladas and Chips and Salsa. This is the number one Marshall Friday meal. Joy makes it and everybody loves it. Very filling. Not very expensive. The hard part is heating all the corn tortillas in oil. It takes a little more time, but it’s worth it. My nine year old twin daughters made this meal one Friday night while my wife was away from start the finish (but I had to wash the dishes!).

Need to eat out on a Friday? My favorite option is a Bento Box lunch at a Sushi restaurant.

My least favorite Friday option? Well, the McFish Sandwich and frozen fish-sticks are my least favorite. The children like fish-sticks, but when I discover that they are for dinner, I inwardly groan. Nothing says “penance” like fish-sticks.

Imagine if you believed that conversion was a life-long process, not just 40 days a year:

Q 88. Of how many parts does the true conversion of man consist?
A: Of two parts; of the mortification of the old, and the quickening of the new man.

Q 89. What is the mortification of the old man?
A: It is a sincere sorrow of heart, that we have provoked God by our sins; and more and more to hate and flee from them.

Q 90. What is the quickening of the new man?
A: It is a sincere joy of heart in God, through Christ, and with love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works.

Called to Drink

Bryan and the Jasons don’t seem to update their blog much. Jason Stellman’s conversion narrative is still there. But no one at Called to Communion seems to notice where their call led Jason (thanks to our Michigan correspondent):

JASON STELLMAN, cohost of the podcast Drunk Ex-Pastors, is a Southern California native and transplant to Seattle who wishes he still lived in Europe. He served as a missionary with Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa in Uganda (’91-’92) and in Hungary (’94-2000). Ordained In the Presbyterian Church in America, he was called to plant Exile Presbyterian Church in the Seattle area where he served from 2004-2012. In September 2012, he was received into the Catholic Church. He drinks and questions his faith regularly.

Don’t get me wrong. I like a drink as much as the next man. But I haven’t made drinking a fruit of the Spirit or a reason to be Presbyterian (hey, wait a minute).

Aesthetic Relativism

If you don’t have standards for beauty, how do you have them for truth and goodness? Father Dwight doesn’t explain:

If you are a convert to the Catholic faith from Lutheranism or Anglicanism or any other form of tasteful religion, then you will have to deal with Catholic kitsch. What are we to do with the trashy trinkets, the horrid holy cards, the sappy statues? How do you put up with the banal hymns, bad preaching and sentimental religiosity? . . .

It’s true Catholics have some awful music and bad hymns. But we also have Palestrina, Elgar, Mozart and Byrd.

Yes, we do have plastic glow in the dark rosaries and those night lights you plug in where the plastic statue of the Blessed Mother lights up. But we also have the Pieta and the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo and Caravaggio.

It’s true we have brutalist churches that look like a cross between a flying saucer and a parking garage, but we also have Chartres, St. Mark’s in Venice, Sainte-Chapelle, Notre Dame, St. Peter’s and Mont Saint-Michel.

This is the authenticity of the Catholic faith. It is universal. It has room for the peasant and the aristocrat, hoi polloi and high falutin’, the learned and the ignorant, the tasteful and the tacky, the sinner and the saint.

With that kind of tolerance, why would you ever reject Protestantism?

But Father Dwight insists he has standards:

“If I were choosing a church I liked I’d still be an Anglican. I didn’t become a Catholic because I liked the Catholic Church.” I retorted. “I became a Catholic because it’s the true Church.”

How would he know? Because the bishop with all the high end art told him?

You can’t argue this stuff up.

Make It Stop

Yet another conversion account with these un-Francis like asides from a former Dutch Calvinist:

I also realized that there was actually no real Protestant faith in itself. The Protestant faith was founded on a protest against a faith, the Catholic Faith. Why would I ever want to part of a “church” that was actually no church at all; one that was racked by division and founded on protest!

The blindness that had always covered me was now gone. I saw that there were countless Protestant denominations, and that they all disagreed with each other on at least one important point of doctrine. This defied the very nature of Truth itself, and rendered all of them imperfect. I finally saw that there must be an authority to clear the air, which I now understand is the See of Peter.

But these questions soon evaporated into joy:

Towards the end of the Vigil, when I saw a number of people receiving their First Sacraments, I knew God was calling me to do the same thing. Mother Church was opening her arms out to me, and even though I knew many crosses would come my way if I ran to Her, I could not resist Her love. Family members of mine would shun me, professors would shake their heads as I had received prestigious scholarships in the Reformed Theology department, my future would be so uncertain, and friends would laugh, but it didn’t matter anymore.

Why doesn’t the fine print of conversion include mention of a stop in purgatory?

Purgatory (Lat., “purgare”, to make clean, to purify) in accordance with Catholic teaching is a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God’s grace, are, not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions.

The faith of the Church concerning purgatory is clearly expressed in the Decree of Union drawn up by the Council of Florence (Mansi, t. XXXI, col. 1031), and in the decree of the Council of Trent which (Sess. XXV) defined:

“Whereas the Catholic Church, instructed by the Holy Ghost, has from the Sacred Scriptures and the ancient tradition of the Fathers taught in Councils and very recently in this Ecumenical synod (Sess. VI, cap. XXX; Sess. XXII cap.ii, iii) that there is a purgatory, and that the souls therein are helped by the suffrages of the faithful, but principally by the acceptable Sacrifice of the Altar; the Holy Synod enjoins on the Bishops that they diligently endeavor to have the sound doctrine of the Fathers in Councils regarding purgatory everywhere taught and preached, held and believed by the faithful” (Denzinger, “Enchiridon”, 983).

Further than this the definitions of the Church do not go, but the tradition of the Fathers and the Schoolmen must be consulted to explain the teachings of the councils, and to make clear the belief and the practices of the faithful.

Temporal punishment

That temporal punishment is due to sin, even after the sin itself has been pardoned by God, is clearly the teaching of Scripture. God indeed brought man out of his first disobedience and gave him power to govern all things (Wisdom 10:2), but still condemned him “to eat his bread in the sweat of his brow” until he returned unto dust. God forgave the incredulity of Moses and Aaron, but in punishment kept them from the “land of promise” (Numbers 20:12). The Lord took away the sin of David, but the life of the child was forfeited because David had made God’s enemies blaspheme His Holy Name (2 Samuel 12:13-14). In the New Testament as well as in the Old, almsgiving and fasting, and in general penitential acts are the real fruits of repentance (Matthew 3:8; Luke 17:3; 3:3). The whole penitential system of the Church testifies that the voluntary assumption of penitential works has always been part of true repentance and the Council of Trent (Sess. XIV, can. xi) reminds the faithful that God does not always remit the whole punishment due to sin together with the guilt. God requires satisfaction, and will punish sin, and this doctrine involves as its necessary consequence a belief that the sinner failing to do penance in this life may be punished in another world, and so not be cast off eternally from God.

Venial sins

All sins are not equal before God, nor dare anyone assert that the daily faults of human frailty will be punished with the same severity that is meted out to serious violation of God’s law. On the other hand whosoever comes into God’s presence must be perfectly pure for in the strictest sense His “eyes are too pure, to behold evil” (Habakkuk 1:13). For unrepented venial faults for the payment of temporal punishment due to sin at time of death, the Church has always taught the doctrine of purgatory.

Can you really be so happy about the uncertainty that awaits 99.9% of those who have to make, grace-assisted of course, satisfaction for their sins? If perfection is necessary, how can the imperfect ever be perfect? Protestantism may seem like a legal fiction. But Rome’s fiction is moral. Alien righteousness matters and this convert doesn’t seem to know that her welcoming mother church not only rejects but condemns such teaching.

Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
He will receive blessing from the LORD
and righteousness from the God of his salvation. (Psalm 24:3-5 ESV)

Where Will Converts Send Their Children to College?

It probably won’t be Providence College where the conservative Roman Catholic professor, Anthony Esolen, is down for the count:

… when Prof. Esolen authored an article arguing, in his own inimitable style with his usual exuberant and evocative prose, that his institution had adopted a wrong-headed attitude toward “diversity,” one might have hoped that anyone who disagreed with his position would respond in a way worthy of the deepest traditions of any academic community: a thoughtful written response, laying out evidence, supplying facts, adducing arguments, contesting premises, disputing inferences, or perhaps merely appealing for a different set of perspectives.

Instead, Esolen’s argument was greeted with the academic equivalent of a loud, disapproving grunt, expressed in its commonest contemporary form: the planned creation by a faculty member of a “totally spontaneous” mob to march across campus, disrupting classes with chants and a bullhorn, until they reached the president’s office where they ceremoniously presented “their demands.” I say “ceremoniously” because representatives of this group had met with the president the night before to discuss their grievances, so he was quite clear on their wishes already. The march to present “demands” was simply a bit of planned political theater to make noise during classes the next day.

Why doesn’t the vaunted intellectual tradition of the western church prevent episodes like this? After all, lots of Roman Catholic intellectuals have rallied to Esolen’s side:

George, himself a faithful Catholic who writes from an orthodox perspective, contrasted Esolen’s treatment at Providence with Princeton hiring him, granting him tenure, installing him in one of its most celebrated endowed chairs and allowing him to create the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions.

Wrote George, “If Princeton University — a secular institution the vast majority of whose faculty and administrators and many of whose students are ideologically on the left — can welcome the contributions of someone whose convictions are in line with the moral teachings of the Catholic Church (even when those teachings fly in the face of left-liberal orthodoxies) why can’t Providence College — a Catholic institution — welcome the contributions of an exceptional Catholic scholar such as Anthony Esolen?”

Meanwhile, Notre Dame professors Francesca Aran Murphy and Patrick J. Deneen have written a letter to Father Shanley, calling upon him to reframe the discussion of diversity in such a way that Esolen’s individuality as a scholar is respected and honored.

“Professor Esolen’s attempt to open a dialogue about the meaning of diversity and of its place within a Catholic and Dominican college has been greeted with a formal defense of his academic freedom, but a deeper implicit repudiation of the legitimacy of the questions he has raised,” wrote Murphy and Deneen, who added that they found it “alarming” that Esolen had been treated “in a dismissive manner by the administration.”

The letter has been signed by more than 100 scholars and observers across the country, including Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School; R.R. Reno, editor of First Things; and Ryan T. Anderson, the William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

Situations like this make a lot more sense if you conclude that the church’s institutions have accommodated themselves to modern academic standards (read modernism) and fail to uphold church teaching. This is what happens after the Land of Lakes Statement and university officials (some of them bishops) don’t pay attention to papal directives. What doesn’t make sense is all the hype of Bryan and the Jasons. Why don’t the converts reflect on the parallels between Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant higher education in the United States the way James Burtchaell did?

Root Root Root for the Home Team

A return to Called to Communion led me to a review of Rodney Stark’s book, Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History. Surprise, surprise, Casey Chalk finds the book valuable (even if his encouragement leans more heavily on faith than reason):

I have examined only two of the ten topics Stark addresses in this review of the historical data regarding a number of contentious issues pertaining to Catholic history. Readers will likely find all the chapters worthy of attention, including those on anti-Semitism (think “Hitler’s Pope”), the Dark Ages (did the Church seek to limit intellectual development?), slavery (how complicit was the Church in New World chattel slavery?), and Protestant Modernity (Weber’s “Protestant work ethic” thesis mentioned above). Stark has done the Catholic Church a great service in presenting a thorough dismantling of many anti-Catholic narratives, as well as offering analysis as to how and why this happened (the answer, in Stark’s review of the history of historians, is overt anti-Catholic bigotry). Even those outside the parameters of the Catholic Church should welcome this study, as it enables us to move beyond the usual sniping characteristic of so many church history debates, and pursue a more thorough, historically faithful ecumenical dialogue.

Have historians engaged in excess? Sure. But pointing that out does not right the wrongs committed by the Roman Catholic Church or its followers. As Eric Smith pointed out in his blog post/review, apologists like Chalk still have some ‘splainin’ to do:

Stark’s argument in many of them can be summarized as “it wasn’t as bad as you think.” Chapter 4: The dark ages weren’t as bad as you think. Chapter 5: The Crusades weren’t as bad as you think. Chapter 6: The Inquisition wasn’t as bad as you think. Chapter 7: The church’s anti-science views weren’t as bad as you think. Chapter 8: Slavery wasn’t as bad as you think. Even when Stark has good points to make (“dark ages” is a misleading and unhelpful category, the Inquisition wasn’t insatiably bloodthirsty always and everywhere, and the church opposed slavery at many points), the reader finds himself disagreeing with Stark, because of the questionable assumptions and poor evidence he brings to the table. He starts most chapters by building a straw man. He presents what he imagines is commonly held knowledge, and then proceeds to poke holes in the poor scarecrow. This is a compelling literary device, since it draws the reader into Stark’s indignation. “Everyone believes that the Catholic church loves slavery!” (I’m paraphrasing). “But it turns out that the Catholic church doesn’t love slavery! This is satisfying as an organizational structure, but it leaves out and excuses many instances in which the church was complicit, was turning the other way, was not keeping its hands clean. It obscures the actions of a few rogue individuals, which Stark almost always concedes while claiming that they didn’t stand for “official” church policy. This structure makes Stark read like an apologist for colonialism, slavery, violence, and ignorance–things I doubt he would claim for himself. And ultimately this book makes Stark read like an apologist for conservatism broadly construed, since somehow, the true enemy almost always seems to turn out to be liberals. (And Voltaire…Stark hates Voltaire). Examples of questionable claims could be multiplied from later chapters–Protestantism is most properly characterized by Max Weber’s work on capitalism, witches who were actually practicing magic probably had it coming, and the church was an innocent victim of the French Revolution–but this review is already too long.

All of which goes to the frequent claim made on behalf of Roman Catholicism by the apologists. It’s the oldest, most historic, church that Jesus founded. History is good! But when historical inquiry reveals aspects of church life less wholesome, then it’s the bias of historians. Is that anti-intellectual, anti-Enlightenment, anti-Protestant, anti-anti-Catholic? Whichever anti it is, it’s just as much a bias as anti-Catholicism is made out to be.

One way around the problem of church errors is to chalk them up to the limits of time and place. Did Roman Catholic officials treat Jews well in the thirteenth century? Not really, but who did? Given the possibilities of human imagination available at the time, to expect 13th-century Roman Catholics to think like moderns is anachronistic. They were creatures of their context and hard pressed to do any better.

But there’s the rub for the proponents of papal audacity. Isn’t the teaching of the magisterium about papal authority as much the creation of historical circumstance — the need for the Bishop of Rome to assert autonomy against European kings, or the collusion of European princes with the Bishop of Rome to outmaneuver a political rival — as the Fourth Lateran Council’s directives about Jews?

All the help of Aristotle’s logic or Aquinas’s scholasticism will not free Bryan and the Jasons from that riddle.

Supersessionist Shrug

An apologist’s post caught my eye and led to an exchange that produced this assertion:

I did admit Rome’s problems, but I didn’t bother laying them out in detail because that wasn’t the point of the post. And as I pointed out in the post and have said over and over again in our exchange, they don’t really affect my conclusion one way or another. If my main argument were that Protestants don’t act like Christians and Catholics do, you would have a point. But I never said that and never would. Sure, Rome has a lot of ‘skeletons:’ the Catholic Church is the oldest and largest of the communions; it makes sense that there would be more crimes, sins, and failures in her past than in that of the others. What of it? A one-by-one comparison of the crimes of the different Christian churches, even if we agreed on what constituted a crime, would tell us nothing about which one among them had the best claim to being the church founded by Christ. Again, the evil done by the Church is accounted for by hypothesis: that of being a Divine commission entrusted to fallen humanity.

Imagine if Jeremiah had said that to the Israelites. Don’t worry about your sins, you go all the way back to Abraham:

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: You have seen all the disaster that I brought upon Jerusalem and upon all the cities of Judah. Behold, this day they are a desolation, and no one dwells in them, because of the evil that they committed, provoking me to anger, in that they went to make offerings and serve other gods that they knew not, neither they, nor you, nor your fathers. Yet I persistently sent to you all my servants the prophets, saying, ‘Oh, do not do this abomination that I hate!’ But they did not listen or incline their ear, to turn from their evil and make no offerings to other gods. Therefore my wrath and my anger were poured out and kindled in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, and they became a waste and a desolation, as at this day. (Jeremiah 44:2-6 ESV)

Too old to fail? Where would anyone reading the whole Bible come up with that?

But if the church is so different from Israel in a supersessionist way, then the lessons of Israel don’t apply to the church. And by the way, don’t bother reading the epistle to the Hebrews.