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Friday, May 25, 2012

It's not that I didn't enjoy Steve Ray's book Upon This Rock...because I did. It's just that mine was a long journey. I read that one toward the beginning. It seemed like he had an argument to settle with the fundies. He wanted me, in his text, to see the obvious truth of his conclusion. I wasn't ready to draw any conclusions then. But the book is great, because he does let the Fathers speak for themselves. Just reading the quotations would cause any reasonable person to wonder if has truly understood the Catholic position ecclesiologically and historically.
What I'm saying is that the evidence for this unique claim to authority is much stronger than I was prepared to admit at the time. It was all quite shocking, really. I could not think of a more sad commentary on the state of the Catholic Church in the US than this: I was surprised to find warriors for truth and holiness among them. More than this, I didn't think anyone cared enough about the truth--Christian truth--to offer it. They loved me enough to challenge me on my opinions. They believed what the Church taught, and they fought for it. Hard. I fought too, but I lost. And happily, at that. They didn't say, "I'm OK, you're OK, we're all OK." And you might think they'd back down, if you misread Vatican II and what it says about other religions and ignorance. They did not retreat to the odd entho-cultural enclave that is Catholicism and hope for the best. The Church really is the Borg Collective, only this time, the Borg win. And you don't lose your individuality; rather, you come alive.
I didn't know it, but I was fighting Jesus. I believed so strongly in parts of the things He taught us and who He is that I couldn't see other parts. I had to face the brutal reality of Sola Scriptura: that I was my own interpreter of what the Scriptures said, even as I invoked the Holy Spirit and belonged to a community that denied we were doing any such thing. What is really freeing is that, I can't be legitimately anathematized--God is not bound--by the determinations of a body that does not even claim to be the Church that He established! You wonder why I found it so easy to leave the PCA? Freeing for me, disastrous for you, in dogma and discipline. Or haven't you noticed? This 'catholicity' sounds great, until you can't truly (that is, in a principled way) distinguish between a disagreement between brothers in different visible expressions of Christ's invisible 'Church' and damned heretics and schismatics. Pardon the intrusion of that obvious truth. You end up sputtering, "But we really, really, mean it this time" as the dude leaves and starts his own "holiness chapel" with Arian bake sales and a harem of 30. But seriously, this means that humble theologians like myself start to wonder what the gospel itself is, if not enjoying the fruits of making it up myself.
But there is a modicum of creedal consensus, that is true. Which is not to say I agree with your minor edits and historical revisions. In fact, the clever ones are the fundies, who figured out that if me and the Holy Spirit can read the Bible, I don't need no bloody bishops, savvy? And then everything is on the table again, even if it comes out little by little. Welcome to Heresy Emporium, where the old hits are old but not forgotten! Don't blame me that the Reformer has no clothes. Whichever one or ones you prefer.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Maybe I Should Do Public Policy

So there I was, praying the Rosary, as is my custom--wait, I digress; you see, it was 1 AM, and even though it was technically the next day, God is not an impatient curmudgeon with a pocket watch. I must have been tired. Had to be. I get to the end of the fourth Sorrowful Mystery--yes, Sorrowful--and I get to the 'O My Jesus'. It's supposed to be, "O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy." A noble prayer, and we Catholics know it well. Instead, I say, "O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Thy fundraising." Yes, this really happened. I stop and say to no one in particular, "What did I just say? Fundraising? What?" [What are you, a megachurch pastor?--ed.] I know, right? So, obviously this becomes the funniest thing this side of my brother and sister-in-law's Wedding Guest Dutch Oven Story. You don't want to know. Or maybe you do!
But I'm laughing all the way through the fifth Sorrowful Mystery--the crucifixion and death of Our Lord, mind you--and I realize that if God were a curmudgeon, laughing during the Sorrowful Mysteries would net me what, 190,000 years in Purgatory? Oh, man. Maybe the Holy Spirit knows something I don't (obviously) about someone who needs money? [Maybe you were daydreaming again about being Rick Santorum's campaign manager in 2020.--ed.] Forget that; President Romney could retire early, and I'll do it in 2016.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

This is a great response to Leithart, on my exact point about idolatry, from an Orthodox guy.

That said, the Church is Orthodoxy? (from the comments) How? No principium unitatis, no definition of what an ecumenical council is, no definitive doctrines about anything, (ethnic Church doctrinal free-for-all) and no way to find them. Oh, yeah, WHERE'S THE BISHOP OF ROME?

I digress. Certain enthusiastic Lutherans (let the reader understand) will just have to man up and realize Leithart was wrong on the point. What is the Eucharist? If it is bread, then we of the Catholic Church (and a large number of others) are Idolaters, not cutesy, evangelical, Calvin, your-heart-is-an-idol-factory idolaters, and you should be glad we're excluding you from our covenant-shattering damnable practices, not mad because we won't let you in.

On the other hand, you wouldn't have this problem if you weren't bizarrely committed to the idea that you were a snow-covered dung heap who commits damnable offenses just by breathing, that is somehow loved by God anyway for Christ's sake, even though if you don't respond, it's still your fault, even though whether or not you do respond was determined beforehand by the decretal election of God before you existed. But don't worry! When it's your turn, God will make you think it matters what you do! Oh, and feel free to work out the blatant contradiction between WCF Chapter 11 and Chapter 15 when you get a chance. To wit: God cannot forgive the same sins twice. If 11 is true, I need not repent of sins committed after I am in Christ by faith, because that's what imputation means: The Father sees Christ, not me. If 11 is not true, well then, I'm not sure what theology that is, but it ain't Reformational. Not that I care if a theology is Reformational, but still. Over here, we would call an error that didn't damn one an attachment, or a venial sin. Anything else...just don't do that, OK?

I have to be a little rougher on the Reformed, because their theology makes the least sense of any, outside the Church, properly speaking. No; I don't think any of you are damned; I might think your leaders are not validly ordained ministers of Christ. I might even say the forefathers of your communities were rebellious, preening charlatans if I'm in a really bad mood, but a few of their descendants charm me with their warmth and humanity, even as theologians, despite themselves. Karl Barth, looking in your direction.

Anyway, I know I'm in full snark mode today. In all seriousness, though, love to you, wherever you are.
The Chili's was better than I remembered. Actually, I said that last time. Perhaps a revision of my opinion is in order. It was the highlight of the night. My nephew "graduated" preschool tonight, complete with gowns and diplomas, the whole bit. I was caught between wanting to support him and thinking, "This is really stupid, and is the reason why we're so soft today."
I thought some Gwen Stefani was in order before bed. Big mistake. "Early Winter." The words stick like sharp knives. I didn't think I'd make it to the end. But I enjoyed the pain so much, I listened to it again. Before I heard that, it was "Don't Speak". It seemed apropos at first, and then I realized it was the exact opposite. I would very much like someone to speak, to explain to me why any of this suffering is good or appropriate. I have a pretty high tolerance for things that truly suck, and I have great faith. I know I do. But I'm out. You couldn't spiritualize anything good out of this one. Put it this way: I don't want any more friends; I'll just lose them.
We're all pretty much worthless as friends. It seems to me that most of us just luck out every day we don't hit the trip-wire that says, "It's All Over." I mean, I can't picture saying that. Pretty much everyone I've ever loved in my life has made me really angry. Even screaming "get out of my face before you die" angry. But passions are passions, and time reminds us that those feelings out of control are as far from reality as truth is from falsehood. The closest thing I have to an enemy in this world is closer to me than the friend I lost. Just a phone call away. It might not be a call I'd make, but it wouldn't be a call I'd refuse. And knowing that--he almost killed me and my family--makes me really angry.
I'm not a killer; not in the truest sense. What's the gravity here? If I'm as bad or worse than that man, fine. But I think we all know better.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Too Catholic to be "catholic"

Being Catholic starts and ends with a person who says, "You know, I could be wrong." Chesterton said something like that. A huge part of that is to surrender one of the hallmarks of the Reformation: The primacy of individual interpretive authority. To have been a Protestant who comes home adds a special edge to everything I do as a Catholic. Every act of charity (few as they probably are) comes with an unspoken apology: "I was wrong; I'm sorry." To be Catholic is not to say that the Reformers said or did nothing true. It is definitely not to say that the Catholic Church in all times and places is free from sin. Ha! In fact, I gratefully acknowledge that Protestants of various stripes are doing and believing large parts of the apostolic faith better and truer than her putative sons and daughters, oftentimes.
But it is to say that no instance of sin in the 16th century fundamentally changes what the Church is, and had been: The visible hierarchical supernatural society headed on Earth by the successor of Peter. There is no necessary and obvious connection between the wickedness of the leadership of that time, and the alleged falsity of the claim. That is, the claim is either true or false; if false, then always so. If true, then always true. I had no skin in the game at the beginning; some say my father's tragic death plays a role in what I did. I say false. I would remain thankful to Catholics as Christians who committed my father's body to the ground in the hope of resurrection, even if I believed their claims were false. Some say "smells and bells." I say false. I largely had smells and bells as a liturgical sacramental Presbyterian. Nor did I read Scripture and decide that the Catholic Church was truer to it.
I simply asked the question, "Where is the Church?" What is the faith she professes? Its precise content? I had to do something with McGrath's "theological novum" that was the Reformation. What is the explanation for changing the way truth is found? If separating from the visible hierarchy that was the Catholic Church was and is not schism, then what would be? The whole hermeneutical method proposed besides, rather than leave us with one body of doctrine, dogmatic truth that can be trusted, left us with myriad opinions as to the content of that Truth, and no way to adjudicate it. And an invisible "Church" as vague as the minimalism of our alleged common faith. This in itself did not make me Catholic. No; the thread I clung to was the person of Jesus Christ. If the Christological definitions I knew to be true and in fact relied upon were so, then it bore investigating how and why it was so. Otherwise, it was completely pointless to hold these determinations as the standard of orthodoxy when, reading the Scripture and relying upon the Holy Spirit, I knew a person could reach opposite conclusions, and, holding Scripture to be the final arbiter, I would not be bound by any historical impositions of authority. And to the extent that the Reformers agreed with those conclusions, I was and remain glad. But it is totally ad hoc. That's the real point behind Cross and Judisch's critique of Mathison: the distinction between Sola Scriptura and "solo Scriptura" (held by fundamentalists with whom Mathison disagrees) is not a real one. I don't say that as a Catholic, because I said it beforehand. If the individual retains interpretive authority, then he retains it, and the principled results of that are manifest. Derivative authority is a fig leaf. At least the heretical individualists are applying their principle consistently. That's not why I'm Catholic.
I'm Catholic because I saw that this common patrimony of Christological orthodoxy did in fact emerge from the determinations of a Spirit-guided, protected, infallible Church still in existence today. The theological novum in terms of soteriology and ecclesiology must be wrong. There was no way to find Christianity without this Church, and its members, whom God used to define that very Christianity, knew and believed they had His protection in the very act of being the Church. That is, by the very means the Reformers had cast aside as corrupt had the truth been made known. What could I do? What would you do?
Peter Leithart is ten times the intellect that I am. Maybe more. And he's taken a lot of flak for being willing to challenge other Reformed people when their versions of how that tradition should be practiced have become untenable, and unmoored from Christian history as a whole. I'd much rather live in his world than many others, doctrinally, liturgically, and otherwise. But he doesn't fundamentally change the Protestant paradigm, with the individual as the final interpreter of divine truth. I believe that he wants Christian unity, but I also believe his doctrine and method prevent this from happening. At bottom, it's not different from the radical fundamentalists. It's prettier, but it's the same hermeneutic, same ecclesiology.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Talkin' To Mary, Part 47 (?)

I've been praying the Rosary a lot, as the title suggests. It started out as a spiritual work of mercy for my family, and I guess it still is that. But I attended Mass yesterday, and some things started to fall into place. When you pray the Rosary, you're participating in the Eucharistic liturgy. As I like to say, "This is that." I'm not just praying by myself and for myself; I'm joining myself to that sacrifice. If you think about it, it makes sense. Christ is everything; the love He offered on the Cross he still offers today in every Mass. This is what many people don't understand about the Rosary (and about Mary): everything we say about Mary and to Mary is inextricably connected to her Son. No, really. Everything. Everytime you talk to her, it's like she says, "Isn't my Son great?" Like any mother would do. But in this case, she's the mother of the Word incarnate. That's bound to get interesting. What would have to be true about her, given what we know about Him? Pretty exalted stuff. We already know from Scripture that she doesn't mind being overshadowed! So it is here. Never once have I prayed a Marian devotion and gotten confused as to who the Savior is. She herself said, "My soul magnifies the LORD, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior." Elizabeth doesn't seem confused. And yet, there's an honor there. She definitely doesn't say, "Well, you're a sinner like the rest of us, but I'm glad your Son is here." Read Luke 1 in a while? Elizabeth talks like a Catholic. Maybe the ecumenical councils read the Scripture better than we gave them credit for. Obviously. The fact that you don't necessarily see it in Scripture means little; I'll use the same argument you use against the fundamentalist when he doesn't see gobs of Reformed theology in there, either: "You're reading it wrong." And since that discussion should it come out in your favor rests on no less real an appeal to ecclesiastical authority as I would make, it sharpens the point of the medieval Church against the so-called Reformers to its very essence: "Who asked you?" I digress.
Mary ordered everything in her life to the glory of God. Nothing wrong with saying 'Thank you' for it. A great hymn said of the Church, "Yet she on Earth hath union/With God the three in one/And mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won." No mystic sweet communion without conversation of some sort. Why not with the Queen of All Saints herself?


Sunday, May 20, 2012

I need to be the Apostle of The Blindingly Obvious for a bit here. The conviction of theists of all flavors is that God (or gods, if you like) has spoken. Among theists, then, disagreements center around either the source or the content of divine revelation. Most of the disputes in the "culture wars" arise because non-theist people have a fundamental assumption that religion as we find it is merely human; the natural world is all that truly matters or exists. So, the answer to the question, "Why don't these Christians just live like normal people and embrace X, Y, and Z?" is, "We can't. God has spoken in Jesus Christ." Not that most seculars live consistently by what we find in nature anyway, but the point is, if you're arguing with a Christian, if you hold on to the assumption that religion is a nice story with an ethical gloss, you'll think he's nuts. But you should question your own premise on that one. I agree with the atheists on this point: if religion is merely human, it's pointless. Three basic options in the world, as I see it. 1. Theism; 2. Existentialism (it's like a Choose Your Own Adventure Book, but with life) or 3. Death. The funny thing is, even if you choose (2), you'll move toward one of the other ones. If you move toward others as you are enjoying yourself, you'll end up a theist, probably. And, if you're any sort of reasonable person, you'll start to notice that you can't really create meaning; it's already there. If you have a friend, truly, you'll be sharing in his meaning, not creating it. Since he knows he didn't create squat either, that should be an interesting conversation. There also appear to be people who look like they are enjoying themselves, but they've actually chosen (3) in slow motion. How did Red say it? A man either gets busy living, or gets busy dying. Captain Pike was talking to the doctor (in the first Star Trek pilot, "The Cage," set in 2254) and he said the same thing. Dr. Mark something. I digress.
The will to power is the only thing left, if there is nothing in nature that binds human organizations to a higher law. Which leads me to ask, "Why should I trust your benevolence?" Even revelation is yet higher than the law of nature. Yet, secularist, are you certain you are living in that accord?
Personally, I don't need religion to be ethical. I'm ethical regardless. If you are thinking that religion is a moral compass only, I don't get that. We don't need a fancy story to be good to one another. That should be obvious. But that explanation holds a lot of sway for some reason. Help me out. No; I'm religious because God exists. I wouldn't do or say any of these things common to the life of faith unless I thought it was true.
I appreciate the self-centered atheist all that much more, because he's being consistent, at least. He's in denial, on some level, but he at least acknowledges the logical conclusion of what he believes. Self and Death. Most people are somewhere in between, and thus, are inconsistent. And that's good, on one level. It can be irritating when people who claim to be relativists are so full of moral outrage about tons of things. OK, sometimes amusing. Not often, though. I digress, again.
Christopher Hitchens was one of my favorite dudes to read. Not his philosophy. But he was interesting on many subjects. He mentioned that this was his favorite verse. I agree with Hitch; do this verse. Assuming the words correspond to real concepts, do this verse. When you hit a wall, it's really a door; knock on it. Someone will answer.