Why Protestantism Matters

Things you may hear in Rome during holy week:

“It is more important that men and women become holy,” Cantalamessa said, “than that they know the name of the one Savior.”

“Without the Madonna, we can’t go forward in our priesthood!” Francis said.

“Each one of us has entered into our own personal tomb,” Francis said, in the one extemporaneous addition to his homily. “I’m inviting you to come out.”

“God loves like this: Until the end, giving his life for each one of us,” Francis said in his homily. “It’s not easy, because all of us are sinners, we have limits, flaws. Yes, we all know how to love, but not like God loves, without looking at the consequences, until the end.”

Could this kind of teaching be the reason the Roman church is facing a shortage of priests?

Father Douglas Grandon is one of those rare exceptions – a married Roman Catholic priest. He was a married Episcopalian priest when he and his family decided to enter the Catholic Church 14 years ago, and received permission from Benedict XVI to become a Catholic priest.

Even though Grandon recognizes the priest shortage, he said opening the doors to the married priesthood would not solve the root issue of that shortage.

“In my opinion, the key to solving the priest shortage is more commitment to what George Weigel calls evangelical Catholicism,” Grandon told CNA.

“Whether you’re Protestant or Catholic, vocations come from a very strong commitment to the basic commands of Jesus to preach the Gospel and make disciples. Wherever there’s this strong evangelical commitment, wherever priests are committed to deepening people’s faith and making them serious disciples, you have vocations. That is really the key.”

If it’s broke, why convert?

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Jesus Only Christianity

Since a new set of interlocutors has emerged of late I am going to persist with a contrast between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism that seems to be fairly crucial for considering the Reformation — namely, what to do about Mary. May seems to the month of our Lord’s mother, hence a number of posts at National Catholic Register (see what EWTN did there?) about Mary. To contrast the liturgical and national calendars, please keep in mind that for Americans May is Asian Pacific Heritage Month.)

Mark Shea persists with a defense of Mary’s immaculate conception and concludes that the church arrived at a two-fold doctrine of salvation (and we’re not even talking about God’s covenant with Jews — though since Mary was Jewish, I guess we are):

Jesus saves from sin in two ways just as a doctor saves from sickness in two ways: cure and prevention. Mary was prevented from contracting original sin in the moment of her conception by a singular act of grace through Christ. In her, we see, not the absence of Christ’s saving grace, but its fullest expression. Hence, she is “full of grace” and praises “God my savior” (Luke 1:47).

For confessional Protestants, that seems like a stretch since we believe in only one mediator between God and man. This implies that some persons can have a different relationship with God. If one has a unique relationship with God, why not a lot more? Why didn’t God simply reboot after Adam’s sin and “prevent” Cain and Abel from sinning?

Meanwhile, Dwight Longenecker tries to explain why Mary as Mediatrix or Co-Redemptrix is not an offense but affirms the sole mediation of Christ:

Once we have recognized that Mary suffered with Jesus we should take a moment to try to understand the depth of that identification with her son. Remember she is linked with her son like no other Mother and her son is like no other Son. How often have we seen and experienced the deep identification between a mother and her child? The child suffers at school. Mama bear steps in for she has suffered too. The child experiences hardship and tears. The mother’s heart is broken too. Only when we understand the depth of Mary’s suffering and the depth of her unique identification with her son will we begin to understand the Catholic doctrines of Co-Redeemer and Mediatrix.

We should be clear that we are not saying that Jesus’ work of redemption on the cross was in some way insufficient. Neither is his work as mediator between God and Man inadequate. We acknowledge that his redemptive suffering on the cross was full and final and totally sufficient. We acknowledge that he is the only saving mediator between God and Man. So what do we mean with these titles for Mary?

What we mean is that she participates in the full, final, sufficient and unique work of Christ on the cross for the salvation of the world. She walks beside him and through his work she joins in that work. It is like Christ’s love and sacrifice is a fast flowing river, but Mary swims in the current of that river. Her work is dependent on his work. Her participation and co-operation could not happen without his work going before and enabling all that she does.

But again the question arises, why single out Mary? Aren’t all believers united to Christ? Don’t we all swim in the current of his work? And wouldn’t it be fair to say after a reading of the New Testament that the apostles (and prophets before them) participated much more directly in Christ’s work than Mary (who is on the sidelines for most narratives)? Why not at least call Peter a Co-Redemptrix? He is after all the original Vicar of Christ. And why appeal to a special relationship between mother and child when Christ himself said that his followers bore a special relationship to himself in ways that were closer than blood relations (“Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, ‘Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.’ But he answered them, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it'” [Luke 8:19-21].)

The point here though has less to do with some of the questions that Longenecker and Shea raise (even as they try to answer objections). It is instead this: what would Christianity lose if Mary was not understood the way these apologists conceive her? Would Christianity be somehow deficient without the immaculate conception or Mary as co-redemptrix?

Simplicity is not always a good thing. But one way of reading the Reformation is as an effort to remove the clutter that had accumulated after a millennium of passing on the faith. Anyone who has changed residences knows the unenviable task of deciding what to do with the basement. Reformers did just that with the western church in the sixteenth century. Some might argue that they donated too many boxes with useful items to United European Charities, Inc. But if Longenecker really does affirm that Christ’s work was sufficient in and of itself (along with Christ’s Spirit, of course), why the attachment to Mary? What does her uniqueness profit the gospel or the Christian religion more generally?

And if Protestantism is really about trying to exalt the work of Christ — and doesn’t mind stepping on traditions that get in the way of seeing Christ’s sufficiency — why would it generate the hostility that it did from Rome?

Saint Sighting

While some Roman Catholics follow news of the Virgin Mary’s sightings, I was recently reminded by the apostle named Matthew (no need for apostolic succession on this source) that Jesus’ mother posts here at Old Life and even at the Gospel Coalition:

47 While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. 48 But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12)

Calvin doesn’t read this passage in quite as favorable a manner for Old Life or blogging as this post suggests:

These words were unquestionably intended to reprove Mary’s eagerness, and she certainly acted improperly in attempting to interrupt the progress of his discourse. At the same time, by disparaging the relationship of flesh and blood, our Lord teaches a very useful doctrine; for he admits all his disciples and all believers to the same honorable rank, as if they were his nearest relatives, or rather he places them in the room of his mother and brethren Now this statement is closely connected with the office of Christ; for he tells us that he has been given, not to a small number of individuals, but to all the godly, who are united in one body with him by faith. He tells us also, that there is no tie of relationship more sacred than spiritual relationship, because we ought not to think of him according to the flesh, but according to the power of his Spirit which he has received from the Father to renew men, so that those who are by nature the polluted and accursed seed of Abraham begin to be by grace the holy and heavenly sons of God. In like manner, Paul affirms that to know Christ after the flesh is not to know him properly, (2 Corinthians 5:16,) because we ought rather to consider that renovation of the world, which far exceeds human power, and which takes place when he forms us anew by his Spirit to the image of God. To sum up the whole, this passage, first, teaches us to behold Christ with the eyes of faith; and, secondly, it informs us, that every one who is regenerated by the Spirit, and gives himself up entirely to God for true justification, is thus admitted to the closest union with Christ, and becomes one with him.

But Calvin’s point, not to mention or Lord’s, sure would seem to take the wind out of the veneration of Mary sails.