Don’t Blame Calvinism

In his daily set of links to items of interest, Michael Sean Winters commits this drive by:

we as a culture used to know money was corrupting, but have forgotten that fact in recent years. There is something to the argument, to be sure, but there was a fascination with the robber barons and the Newport elite longer before “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” came along. And Calvinism, the strongest religious influence in our culture, has always had a soft spot for wealth, seeing it as evidence of divine approval, rather than as the devil laying his traps.

Notice the either-or perspective on wealth — either it’s from God or from the devil. And Winters thinks Roman Catholic conservatives are guilty of dualism.

What Winters reveals is that Rome has never caught up to Protestants on vocation and how to understand work in the world (whether you make a lot of money or not). Imagine if Rome had taught about secular work as part of the priesthood of all believers. They might have helped Protestants who tried to hold back the tide of acquisitive (or status seeking) participation in the market.

Consider the way that Rod Liddle in his review of J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy describes middle-class English Protestantism of a generation or so ago:

I was of J. D.’s mum’s generation, the people who made fecklessness a lifestyle choice, and were somehow encouraged to do so. We jettisoned almost everything our parents believed in and made ourselves much worse off—just as did J. D.’s mother. I tried to make sense of this generational shift in a book—Selfish, Whining Monkeys—which attempted to explain the reasons why my generation had managed, in such a short space of time, to let down their children and their parents. Some of it accords with what Vance has to say, even if he does not spell it out. Gone, for example, was any notion of deferred gratification and work ethic—just one of the many consequences of the diminished importance of religion in our lives.

Protestantism inculcated a simple and perhaps confining moral code: work hard, invest, don’t steal, look after your community, put your family first, wait for reward—always wait for reward. Don’t sleep around, don’t lie, don’t spend more money than you have. For my parents’ generation, divorce was a stigma and vanishingly rare, at that. But recently I stood outside a Middlesbrough job center interviewing one hundred or so people who were seeking work. Every single one of that hundred came from a broken family. Every one. And of those who now had children themselves, every one was no longer with the partner with whom she’d had the child. And this state of affairs had not made them happy; it had wrecked them. They were all J. D.’s mum now.

What’s so bad about that approach to work and economic considerations? Granted, those middle-class virtues are not the sole possession of Protestant creeds and confessions. But it is hardly a recipe for “the lives of the rich and famous.”

And what did Roman Catholics offer as an alternative?

Within the early Christian community through the medieval period, a similar attitude toward work in the world as associated with the body and the lower elements of human nature prevailed. Through the influences especially of neo-Platonic thought, the emphasis was upon a life spent in contemplation, as reflected in these words of Augustine in the 5th century, “the contemplation of God is promised us as the goal of all our actions and the eternal perfection of happiness,” or Aquinas in the 13th century, “the contemplation of divine truth . . . is the goal of the whole of human life.” Work which meets the needs of the body, then, has “no lasting religious significance.” As theologian Ernst Troeltsch notes in his monumental study, The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches, “An ethic which starts from the point of view of an original equality, and which holds that the differences that do exist are due to sin, and which at its best regards the division of labour as a Divine arrangement adapted to the needs of fallen humanity, is inherently unable to see any value in ‘callings’ at all” (Troeltsch, Social Teaching, I, 121).

The monastery or the nunnery, places of withdrawal from worldly activities, exemplified the most valued state of life, and even while bodily work occurred in those settings, the work was a means of purification and the development of virtue, not an activity to be pursued for itself. Furthermore, in the later medieval period as liturgical practices took up more and more of the roles and time of the monks and nuns, they no longer worked to support themselves; many lived off the wealth of the aristocracy through gifts in exchange for prayer. Even the wandering mendicant friars lived off the good will of those whom they met along the way.

In the Catholic understanding, vocation was a response to God’s calling by removing oneself from the cares and concerns of this world. Sociologist Max Weber notes that in Jewish traditions, among the Greek and Roman classics, or in the medieval world of Catholicism, vocation had none of the contemporary meaning of a fulfillment of one’s duties to God by active engagement in the world. Further, in the medieval world someone who engaged in the work of business was certainly suspect; today’s business state of mind “would both in ancient times and in the Middle Ages have been proscribed as the lowest sort of avarice and as an attitude entirely lacking in self-respect.”8 “Business was only possible for those lax in ethical thinking.” According to Aquinas, there is “something shameful about it [commerce], being without any honorable or necessary defining goal” (quoted in Tam).

Instead of blaming Calvinism, Winters may want to look in the mirror. He may also want to think, as Liddle encourages readers, about economists on the left and the right who have no dog in the hunt for the church Jesus founded:

But it’s not just the retreat of religion, or more properly, our retreat from religion, that caused this shift. It was also the rise of two supposedly oppositional doctrines that grew up in the early 1960s. First, the post-Marxist Frankfurt school of sociologists (Habermas, Horkheimer, Marcuse, et al.), which posited the overthrowing of those old, discredited notions of respect for authority, of capitalism, of anything that could be considered bourgeois, in favor of rampant individualism and free expression—sexually, morally, politically—which unpicked the fabric painstakingly woven by our parents and their parents before them. And then the Chicago school of economists (Hayek, Friedman, et al.), which also posited a rapacious individualism at the expense of the larger society. A deregulated economy in which homes were not places in which one lived, but another form of collateral. An imperative to strive to make money and to spend, to consume and consume without the constraints which had previously attended.

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The Nation-State with the Ethic of a Church

What does it mean to be American?

“For the Catholic community, the Gospel mandate to ‘welcome the stranger’ is a searing responsibility, not only in our personal lives, but also in guiding our efforts to create a just society in a world filled with suffering and turmoil,” San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy wrote in a statement about the executive orders.

“For this reason, the historic identity of the United States as a safe haven for refugees fleeing war and persecution is for American Catholics both a source of justifiable pride and an unswerving religious commitment, even as we recognize that at shameful moments in our national history prejudice, fear and ignorance have led our country to abandon that identity.”

We heard Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich state: “It is time to put aside fear and join together to recover who we are and what we represent to a world badly in need of hope and solidarity. ‘If we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.’ Pope Francis issued these challenging words to Congress in 2015, and followed with a warning that should haunt us as we come to terms with the events of the weekend: ‘The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.’ ” The cardinal’s statement got so many hits, the archdiocesan website crashed.

What does it mean to be Roman Catholic?

When it comes to religious affiliation, a distinctive pattern has emerged in President Donald Trump’s new administration: Most of the high-ranking appointees to military-related positions hail from a Catholic background.

That includes not only Gen. James Mattis, who was sworn in as secretary of defense in late January, but also the new secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Gen. John Kelly. The pattern holds with the national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who is also a general and grew up in an Irish-Catholic family in Rhode Island.

Other high-ranking Catholics include the Army secretary appointee, Vincent Viola, an Army veteran and major donor to Fordham University; and Gen. Joseph Dunford, who was tapped to serve as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff under President Barack Obama and is viewed as likely to continue in that role.

That so many Catholics ended up in top military positions is not necessarily by design, but it is nonetheless significant, according to several military historians.

Lisa Mundey, a military historian at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, said the appointments reflect broader social trends. “I think what is interesting is how well Catholics are integrated into society [now] than they were historically,” Mundey said. A key turning point was the election of John F. Kennedy as president in 1960, which especially paved the way for other Catholics to serve in key government posts, according to Mundey.

Another watershed moment was the end of the draft and the birth of the all-volunteer army, in 1973. Since then, more of those who serve in the military have been making their careers there, according to Mundey.

The armed forces provide an environment that is friendly to the expression of faith, according to William Leeman, a military historian at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island, who formerly taught at West Point. “They seem very comfortable with their religion, in the sense that it seems to be a more conservative environment,” Leeman said.

For those in the military, their faith can help them get through the hardships they face, becoming an important part of their service, Leeman said.

The cafeteria is opening a franchise near you soon.

Two Cities or One?

Michael Sean Winters thinks Bishop Robert McElroy’s article on the religious duties of voters has merits, but I wonder after reading this paragraph:

Most important, a spiritual political conversion requires the orientation of soul that flows from the principle of solidarity that St. John Paul II powerfully outlined as a fundamental element of Catholic social teaching. This orientation reminds us that in society we must always understand ourselves to be bound together in God’s grace and committed, in the words of “On Social Concerns,” “to the good of one’s neighbor, with the readiness, in the Gospel sense, to lose oneself for the sake of the other rather than exploiting him.”

The implications of such a spiritual stance for discipleship in voting are clearly reflected in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church: “The principle of solidarity requires that men and women of our day cultivate a greater awareness that they are debtors of the society of which they have become a part.”

I get having a sense of belonging to the rest of the people in the society of which I am a member. I don’t get what grace has to do with this.

Is it really true that Christians understand themselves to be bound together with non-Christians in God’s grace? Or if we apply the antithesis that Augustine affirmed in his formulation of 2 cities, then are we only bound together in society with other Christians? That was the construction that led European Christians to wonder about where Jews and Muslims fit in Christendom, and John Calvin to wonder about where Michel Servetus fit in Geneva.

So once again, perhaps the Bishop needs to make clear the difference between the two kingdoms, one that affirms a spiritual antithesis and a social commonness. Blurring the two will get us to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.

Gate Way Integrationism

I have for a while now thought that neo-Calvinism’s rejection of dichotomies between the secular and sacred and its attempt to add redemptive significance to the commonest of human enterprises set a Reformed Protestant (evangelicals also since they have found Kuyperianism) up for the kind of integrationism that Roman Catholicism promotes (i.e., the integration of faith and learning, church and state, Christ and culture). This is not a cheap shot because of the parallel moves that European Roman Catholics and Dutch Calvinists made to the French Revolution. Both Christian groups viewed the Revolution in antithetical categories, viewed liberalism and secularism as anti-Christian, and responded with philosophical polemics that cultivated notions about Christian and liberal w-ws. For the papacy, neo-Thomism was the answer. For Kuyper, a romantic idealism.

Confirmation of the intellectual proximity of post-French Revolution and Kuyperianism came recently from Michael Sean Winters’ year end reflection on the Roman Catholic Church:

. . . it is fun to hear secular commentators explain their admiration for the pope by saying they are relieved he is not focused on doctrine or dogma but on helping the poor. Hello?!??!! What we call the “social doctrine” of the Church is as much “doctrine” as the Church’s teaching on the neuralgic, pelvic issues. Both flow from our dogmatic belief that men and women are created in the image and likeness of God, and by our dogmatic belief that in the light of the Incarnation, we understand human dignity differently, at a deeper level, even a more urgent level. The challenge for the Church is to explain that all of Her teachings are rooted in the empty tomb of Jesus Christ, or they have nothing distinctly Catholic about them. It is true, say, that two plus two equals four in every religious scheme, but the significance of mathematics or science or any human knowledge is a thing for philosophy and theology to determine, and, for Catholics, the role of philosophy is not independent of theology, the two must walk hand-in-hand. Pope Francis is not eschewing dogma. As regards criticisms of his economic understanding as evidenced in Evangelii Gaudium, the pope is not trying to win a Nobel in Economics. His statements are not even just moral exhortations, but something deeper, something dogmatic, something about the nature of human kind understood in the light of the nature of the Godhead.

So Many Genres, So Many Interpreters, So Many Opinions

The returns on Pope Francis’ recent “writing” are still being written, but a piece last week puts EVANGELII GAUDIUM (The Joy of the Gospel) in perspective. It is not an encyclical, the most authoritative form of papal communication. It is rather an apostolic exhortation:

Apostolic exhortations are often based on deliberations of synods of bishops, and this one takes into account the October 2012 synod on the new evangelization. But last June, Pope Francis informed the ordinary council of the Synod of Bishops, which is normally responsible for helping draft post-synodal apostolic exhortations, he would not be working from their draft.

Instead, the pope said, he planned to write an “exhortation on evangelization in general and refer to the synod,” in order to “take everything from the synod but put it in a wider framework.”

That choice surprised some, especially since Pope Francis had voiced his strong commitment to the principle of consultation with fellow bishops and even suggested that the synod should become a permanent advisory body.

This writer adds:

Popes through the centuries have issued their most important written messages in one of 10 classic forms, ranging from encyclical to “chirograph,” a brief document on a highly limited subject. But most of these are typically formulaic texts that do not express the distinctive voice or charism of the man who issues them. . . .

A category of document that Pope Francis has not yet produced, but in which he is likely to make a major contribution, is that of apostolic constitutions. These are usually routine legal documents establishing a new diocese or appointing a bishop. But they can also address exceptional matters, as did Pope Benedict’s 2009 “Anglicanorum coetibus,” which established personal prelatures for former Anglicans who join the Catholic Church.

An apostolic constitution especially relevant to this pontificate is Blessed John Paul’s 1988 “Pastor Bonus,” which was the last major set of changes to the church’s central administration, the Roman Curia. Planning a revision of that document was the one specific task Pope Francis assigned to his advisory Council of Cardinals when he established the eight-member body in September.

Another consequential type of papal document is an apostolic letter given “motu proprio,” i.e., on the pope’s own initiative. Such letters are used to set up new norms, establish new bodies or reorganize existing ones. Pope Benedict issued 18 of them in the course of his eight-year pontificate — most famously in 2007, when he lifted most restrictions on celebration of the Tridentine Mass; and most recently in February, when he changed the voting rules of a papal conclave less than a week before he resigned from office.

Not only do we need to keep an eye on the distinction between discipline and doctrine, but we need to pay attention to papal genres.

Whether any of this adds up to changes, reforms, winners, or losers is all the chattering bloggers’ guess. Sean Michael Winters appears to be pleased that Francis took a shot at Roman Catholic traditionalists. From the apostolic exhortation:

This worldliness can be fueled in two deeply interrelated ways. One is the attraction of gnosticism, a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feelings. The other is the self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism of those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying. In neither case is one really concerned about Jesus Christ or others. These are manifestations of an anthropocentric immanentism. It is impossible to think that a genuine evangelizing thrust could emerge from these adulterated forms of Christianity. (94)

Winters also likes the idea of decentralizing Vatican authority:

The papacy and the central structures of the universal Church also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion. The Second Vatican Council stated that, like the ancient patriarchal Churches, episcopal conferences are in a position “to contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realization of the collegial spirit”. Yet this desire has not been fully realized, since a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated. Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach. (#32)

Whether this will please Jason and the Callers, or whether this will be chalked up to more papal audacity is anyone’s guess.

I myself am wondering, though, what Francis means by the gospel. The word sinner appears only two times in the 51,000-word document. The same goes for righteousness, and both of these words come directly from biblical quotations. Sacrifice appears five times, but only once in connection with Christ’s death on the cross:

Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is nothing else than the culmination of the way he lived his entire life. Moved by his example, we want to enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spiritually in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep; arm in arm with others, we are committed to building a new world. But we do so not from a sense of obligation, not as a burdensome duty, but as the result of a personal decision which brings us joy and gives meaning to our lives. (269)

This may explain why Francis appeals to the Second Vatican Council four times, and never mentions Vatican I or the Council of Trent. But so far, Bryan Cross is treating the exhortation as business as usual — a chance for more ecumenical dialogue. He doesn’t seem to realize that confessional Protestants would be more willing to talk — not to agree — if we knew where Rome stood, that is, if Francis still used the language of infused righteousness and original sin cleansed by baptism.

Meanwhile, I read about a new book on papal encyclicals of the social teaching variety, mentioned by Peter Leithart. The post concludes with this sentence: “The Church’s aim, [John Paul II] insisted, is not to add another ideology to the public square; the task is one of ‘imbuing human realities with the Gospel.'” What recent popes don’t seem to consider — in the light of modernism both Roman Catholic and Protestant — is whether human realities obscure the gospel to the point that, say, the gospel is little more than affirming the dignity of the human person — as if sinners don’t need to hear something about the depravity of the human person and their need for a savior. Old hat, I guess.

Americanists All?

Sean Michael Winters believes that Pope Francis is a pontiff for the poor who does not fit the neo-conservative Roman Catholic defenders of free markets and political liberalism:

The new pope’s critique of the current world economy has left conservative Catholic commentators in something of a bind. For years, they have denounced “cafeteria Catholics” on the left, those who differ with the Church on issues such as same-sex marriage or abortion rights. Now, it is these conservatives who need to either change their public policy positions or stand in the cafeteria line. “Before, Catholic economic conservatives like George Weigel and Robert Sirico could pretend that Vatican apparatchiks were smuggling traditional anti-capitalist language into papal pronouncements,” says Trinity College’s Mark Silk, who serves on the editorial board of Religion & Politics. “But no one can doubt that this language comes straight from Pope Francis’ heart. That’s what’s freaking the conservatives out.”

Winters thinks that these same conservatives were wrong about Benedict XVI:

To be clear, Weigel, Sirico and other Catholic conservatives have been pretending for some time. When Benedict issued Caritas in Veritate in 2009, Weigel famously suggested reading the text with red and gold pens, excising those parts he attributed to the Vatican bureaucracy and with which he and other Catholic neo-cons objected. And, Father Sirico’s latest book, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy, stands in opposition to more than 100 years of papal social teaching in its championing of laissez-faire policies.

Pope Benedict was not shy about voicing his concerns about the world economy. In his last World Day of Peace message, issued on January 1 of this year, Pope Benedict condemned “a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism,” which he lumped together with terrorism and international crime as threats to world peace. Pope Francis is building on what was said by his predecessors going all the way back to Pope Leo XIII in the late nineteenth century. What is different about Francis is not the content of the teaching, but the directness of his style.

And when some conservative Roman Catholics claim that Francis is not an advocate or teacher of liberation theology, Winters says it doesn’t matter:

. . . it is true that Papa Francesco does not subscribe to certain varieties of liberation theology, [but] he is also not likely to be found at a Tea Party rally, reading Ayn Rand, or otherwise evidencing much sympathy for the anti-government, pro-capitalist positions common among Catholic conservatives in the U.S..

In short, while conservative Catholics might have been able to parse traditional Catholic social teaching in ways that suited their defense of modern capitalism and globalization, Pope Francis’ words are so direct, so forceful, so precise, they do not invite parsing. “The tradition has long been suspicious of the kind of economics proposed by the Acton Institute,” Camosy says. “For Catholics who are thinking with the Church, growing wealth always takes a back seat to justice—in particular, justice for the most vulnerable. Period.” That period has become, under Francis, an exclamation mark.

This is one of those exchanges, again, of which Jason and the Callers seem to be remarkably ignorant (or willfully silent). Sure, they may know about Winters and Weigel. But the debates among U.S. Roman Catholics, which line up remarkably along the lines of the major political parties, make no difference for their claims about the papacy and the difference the office makes to Christian witness. As they would have it, without a pope, Protestants are left to private opinion. But Jason and the Callers don’t notice that with a pope, U.S. Roman Catholics are increasingly left to not-so-private interpretations of what the pope really means or intends. It is a struggle to define the papacy. Here, I had thought that the papacy was responsible for its own definition and Weigel and Winters were to submit.

The true state of affairs among at least some U.S. Roman Catholics is not whose side the pope is on but that each side tries to claim the pope for its politics. In effect, the social justice and pro-capitalist Roman Catholics may both be guilty of what used to be known of Americanism, namely, letting society set the agenda for the church (instead of the other way around), a heresy condemned by Leo XIII in Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae. Russell Shaw, who has a recent book on Americanism among Roman Catholics in the U.S., wrote:

Leo XIII’s critique is more substantial than apologists for Americanism care to admit. Much of it, in fact, is pertinent to conditions in American Catholicism today. . . .

Turning to the origins of Americanism, Leo XIII says it reflects a desire to attract to the Church “those who dissent.” Central to it, he adds, is the idea that the Church — “relaxing its old severity” — must “show indulgence” to new opinions, including even those that downplay “the doctrines in which the deposit of faith is contained.”

Leo XIII’s reply is that how flexible the Church can and should be is not up to individuals but rests with “the judgment of the Church.” Opposing this orthodox view, he notes, is the modern error that everyone could decide for himself, inasmuch as the Holy Spirit today gives individuals “more and richer gifts than in times past” — no less than “a kind of hidden instinct” in religious matters. . . . Better than Leo XIII or anyone else could have known at the time, the opinions condemned in the papal letter have turned out to be widely held among American Catholics today.

That is the case with the notion that each individual member of the Church can decide religious questions for himself or herself and that this remarkable ability comes directly to each one from the Holy Spirit. This opens the door to “cafeteria Catholicism” — a name given to the pick-and-choose selectivity regarding Church teaching on faith and morals now found among many Catholics.

All of which is simply to say it looks very much as if Pope Leo XIII wasn’t wrong to condemn Americanism — he was just ahead of his time.