Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Answer To The Problem--Resources

I wrote this series of posts to explain what I was thinking as a Christian; why it came to pass that I sought full communion with the Catholic Church. It was as surprising to me as it appeared obvious to everyone else, on all sides. Perhaps you track with me and find it compelling. Perhaps you don't. Let me be frank: I want you to say, "I can see what he's saying; I see why he might do this." You don't have to agree.

I appreciate you also if you feel I've done the wrong thing, and even put my soul in danger. At least you desire the will of God, for me and all of us. (I might think that you lack the "standing", as it were, to make such a judgment, but I understand it.) But I confess, I need more grace to deal with what I perceive as a bunch of mealy-mouthed equivocators, for whom "ecumenism" is the dinner party meet-and-greet at a useless UN conference. Theology matters. Jesus Christ matters. It is neither insurmountable, nor necessarily an occasion for acrimony if we find that we disagree. But whether we can come to agree depends on definitions and authority, and perhaps only this. If there is some moral deficit or lack of wisdom, let us beg the Spirit of God to come to our aid.

If you dare to travel down the same path of thought at least as I did, I read several books that seemed to ask and answer the same questions I was asking. I will try to remember the order in which I read them. Nota Bene: For the record, I did not attend weekly Mass until I was Catholic, on April 23, 2011. I decided to become Catholic on April 10, 2011, at 3:56 PM CDT. I attended my last Presbyterian Lord's Day service on April 17. You may well rightly suggest that I was unfit for ministry in any Reformed church long before that. But until April 10, I fully intended to complete my studies for ministry and pursue ordination in the Presbyterian Church in America, despite any sympathies to the contrary.

Book 1: The Shape of Sola Scriptura, by Keith Mathison. You may be surprised that this first book on my list is by a Reformed author, defending Sola Scriptura. But I want you all to know that when I attack Sola Scriptura, I am not attacking a straw man or false concept. This man does a fine job nuancing it in a manner that accords with the awareness of history that the most sophisticated Protestants endeavor to have. His purpose is to distinguish "Solo Scriptura" ("me and the Holy Spirit and the Bible") from "Sola Scriptura." (a more historically-informed view he says, held by the first Reformers, and Church Fathers) The attack on "Solo Scriptura" is absolutely devastating; no Catholic apologist could make it better. That's why every Catholic who is able should read and understand this book. True, he destroys his own position unwittingly, but hey, Truth does that.

Book 2: A Father Who Keeps His Promises, by Scott Hahn. This should be read, if one is Reformed, in conjunction with Far As The Curse Is Found, by Michael Williams, an old teacher of mine. You can see that the story of redemption is pretty much the same; it's what we do with it in response that determines the contours of our separations as Christians. You will find Dr. Hahn engaging and sympathetic if you are Reformed, because he was Reformed himself.

Book 3: The Lamb's Supper, by Scott Hahn. Not so much a work of apologetics as a primer on the eschatological hope and fulfillment of the Mass, it does pretty conclusively establish a link between Passover and the Eucharist, which is important if one's disagreement with the Catholic Church on the Eucharist in any way hinges on a more pronounced discontinuity between those two rites.

Book 4: Upon This Rock, by Stephen Ray. If I had to pick one book to say, "See! The Catholic Church is not crazy!" this is the one. You cannot make the case any stronger in so short and readable a way. Which is not to say there are no problems with the book. Ray sounds like a man who's been arguing with hateful and stupid people for a really long time. I had no firm opinions at the time, so the "edge" on this book seems meant for someone else. But the best parts of this book are the bonanza of quotations from the Church Fathers. This book has bishops and priests yelling, "Yahtzee!" and high-fiving for no good reason. (Except converts.)

Book 5: The Russian Church and the Papacy, by Vladimir Soloviev (edited by Ray Ryland). This abridged version of a longer work addresses the Eastern schism by way of a look at the Russian Church. Soloviev believes that the ineffective ministrations of the clergy in Russia and the Slavic world generally are caused by their entanglement in worldly affairs, and in fact believes that the whole schism was caused by those earthly powers. Accordingly, he argues for reunion with the Pope. This book certainly murders the notion that to be Catholic is to surrender to a Western cultural captivity. For that reason alone, we all owe him a debt.

Book 6: The Early Papacy, by Adrian Fortescue (edited by Alcuin Reid). This book confronts various challenges to papal primacy, most notably in my mind the notion that Petrine primacy could be one of honor but not jurisdiction. He reads like Lewis. It's a joy to read this short, punchy book. It takes you up through Chalcedon in 451.

Book 7: The Faith Of The Early Fathers, by William A. Jurgens. This is a source-book of patristic excerpts. This shows both continuity and the vagaries of human opinion, for those who believe that the Church is unaware of disagreement. It is a mistake to believe that even luminaries in theology are authorities in themselves; this shows their submission and rebellion, reinforcing the need for the Church.

Reference works, and books I never finished:

Fundamentals Of Catholic Dogma, by Ludwig Ott. This book explains and cites the sources of every dogma of the Catholic Church, through Vatican I. You need this book.

Catholic Christianity, by Peter Kreeft. Average person's guide to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Awesome.

Catechism of the Catholic Church. Up-to-date, authoritative guide to all things Catholic.

If you have any more questions, sheesh, get a degree. Ask a priest. Honestly. I'm a theologian, not a miracle-worker!


Timothy R. Butler said...

Nice Trek reference. I still wish Mathison would drop off these lists. I've mentioned this to Bryan when he would reference him, as well. Personally, I'm not as impressed with Mathison as many folks are. I'd rather have Melanchthon speak for my views than have Mathison do it.

Jason said...

Oh? If there's something specific of Melancthon you could point me toward, I would value it. I'm so steeped in Trek, I didn't notice.

Timothy R. Butler said...

I really like his 1521 Loci Communes. He makes reference to his doctrine of Scripture in the Communes, though I must confess I can't recall where in it -- I'd have to look. There's a nice little Library of Christian Classics edition that packages it with my man Bucer's De Regno Christi in one paperback.

If you are interested, there is also a nice volume -- out of print, but easily available by interlibrary loan, on the Reformers' use of the Patristics in relation to Scripture.

In any case, Luther loved hyperbole and rhetoric, but Melanchthon loved nuance and systematics (as the Augsburg Confession and Apology there of would attest). He, along with Bucer, were genuinely and passionately dedicated to bringing peace and unity to the church. So, while they failed, they devoted themselves to the task and their works are helpful to that end. Both had cordial relations with the less hot tempered Catholics and both came close to agreements before Trent ultimately slammed the door shut.