March 9, 2008

A quote from St. Augustine uttered during the 4th century Donatist controversy is haunting me. Roughly translated from the Latin, it is a statement that says, “wherefore the entire world judges out of security, they are not good who separate themselves from the entire world, in whatever part of the entire world”.

It was the discovery of this Augustine quote, and his subsequent fervent meditation upon it, that led John Henry Newman, noted 19th century Anglican and leader of the Oxford Movement, to realize that the Church of England was, in reality, no less schismatic in its relationship to the historic Catholic faith than the Donatists and the Monophysites were back in those formative years of the Church in the late 3rd-early 4th centuries.

I have to say that, unlike my view going in to reading Vincent Ferrer Blehl’s fascinating book about Newman’s journey from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism, “Pilgrim Journey”, I’m pretty impressed – and not a little persuaded – by Newman’s subsequent view that the Christian faith as practiced by the Roman Catholic Church, even given its own historic excesses and corruptions (which, BTW, all churches inevitably fall into in their own time), remains the closest in terms of spirit, doctrine, teachings, and traditions to the church of the Apostles and the early Church Fathers.

You can see the power and underlying sense of Newman’s view looking not just at the Church of England today and the total mess the worldwide Anglican Communion finds itself in after decades of slipping and sliding away from the historical teachings and traditional doctrines of Christianity, but in the way each of the various mainline Protestant churches that emerged out of the Reformation have continued to fracture and splinter out of disputes – some significant, others arbitrary – into churches and denominations of diminished importance and doctrinal irrelevence in their attempts to be more or even less Catholic.

None of this should come as any surprise, for what all these churches have in common is a continual, ongoing act of reformation constantly at the mercy of the times and increasingly at odds with the ancient traditions from which they themselves originated. Paul Thigpen, in Patrick Madrid’s book “Surprised By Truth”, writes of his own revelation in this regard:

…I saw how Rome has remained the spiritual center of gravity for the churches that have separated from her. However much they try to distance themselves, they keep finding their way back: when the arid, rigid predestinationism of Calvin grew at last intolerable, they turned to Wesley for a more human – and more Catholic – view. In the Holiness movement they recaptured something of the Catholic traditions of asceticism and works of mercy; in the Pentecostal movement they recovered a sense of sacrament and mystery.

Meanwhile, even our now-secular society – itself spawned in many ways by the logical conclusions of Protestant views – still attempts to make up for the useful Catholic traditions it has repudiated. As G.K. Chesterton once noted, whatever Catholic elements the Protestants threw out of their churches, the modern world eventually reintroduced because they couldn’t live without them. But they always brought them back in a lower form. Instead of the confessional, for example, we now have the psychoanalyst’s couch, with none of the safeguards of the confessional. Instead of a glorious communion with the saints who help us on our pilgrimage to heaven, we now have spiritualists who frolic with demons that seduce us into hell. p. 29

Like Thigpen and Newman found in their own spiritual journeys, to re-discover the Bible as THE BIBLE is to discover that the Catholic Church does, in fact, have it right. Look at all the Psalms that speak of how we are known and loved by God even while we are still being formed in our mother’s womb (BTW, this is not hard to do, just find The Pslams in any Bible concordant or Internet website and search for the word “womb”), and then you tell me what faith is correct in its stand on the sanctity of life. Unlike the mainline Protestant faiths who go out of their way to encourage us to celebrate being who and what we are – after all, that’s what worship at the altar of diversity, inclusiveness, and tolerance is all about – the Catholic Church calls its members, more than anything else, to holiness. One look at the cross behind a Catholic church altar will remind you of the burden we all share our waywardness and sinfulness. Read John chapter 6 and tell me which faith teaches the sacrament of the Eucharist in its most authentic and historic form of truth.

How I have come to arrive at these mysteries after all these years is difficult to comprehend in my own mind, and the truth is, I’m still grappling with it all. But, just as Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem” (Jn 4:21), each of us has to find, in our own way, that living stream that leads us to where we can be united with the living God both “in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4:24).

It’s all baby steps thus far, but I’m beginning to understand Newman’s comment, “to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant”. As it was with Newman, it is becoming more apparent to me that, as Thigpen writes, “Veritatis Splendor – the spirit of truth, as the Holy Father has so aptly called it, blazes forth from Rome.” And while that fire for me still remains a curious glow on the horizon, with each day the glow gets brighter, and the waters towards the Tiber start to run all the swifter.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 01:09 | Comments (4)
  1. The ancients believed and science has demonstrated that the fetus repeats the stages of animal life that t6he human has gone through before birth. At birth the intake of air and the baby’s cry reveals the intake of the Holy Spirit into the soul whereby we become fully human and no longer animal. To insist that a woman must bear a child she does not want to be responsible for is to consign that child to a life of hell. I know it because it happened to me. Jesus said that those who would hurt one of these children who believed in him would wish they had never been born because those who society insists must be born to mothers who don’t want them always come to wish that THEY had never been born. I have, did, and do. You who insist that pre-human life is sacred should look within yourselves and see the grinning, unspeakable monster that dwells there.

    Comment by Randall Pratt — October 22, 2011 @ 11:52 am

  2. Thanks so much for your comment, Randall. I’d be fascinated to know how you picked up on a post I wrote 3 1/2 years ago, that’s very interesting to me!

    As I’ve posted later in my blogging life I believe that life is a sacred trust given us by God. When we betray that trust – for example, by committing unspeakable acts of murder or abuse against a fellow human being – we give up those rights and are at the mercy of the accusers of those crimes. Which is why, even though a Roman Catholic, I have no problem with the death penalty in lock-tight cases where the accused is obviously the perpetrator and the victims are innocent victims of the crime that has been committed.

    I believe human life is sacred and ought to be treated that way by other humans. I’m well aware that humans are capable of inhuman acts, and when those are committed there aought to be ways of dealing with that.

    Comment by The Great White Shank — October 23, 2011 @ 6:27 pm

  3. What is your take on the Eastern Orthodox Church? In arguments such as the sanctity of life, they agree; in arguments such as schism, it seems more likely that Rome left than that everyone else left Rome.

    (I found this page by a web search for “securus judicat orbis terrarum”, which haunts me too. But I don’t think the world securely judges any church, Rome or otherwise, to be the truest of Christianity any more, even if it did in Newman’s day.)

    Comment by Geoffrey — February 7, 2012 @ 4:16 am

  4. Hi Geoffrey – thanks so much for the comment. It never ceases to fascinate me how a post I might have tossed up years ago provides fodder for comment and discussion! Welcome to the Nation, I hope you won’t be a stranger. 🙂

    As to your question: I think the Church on earth is always trying to perfect itself to some sort of “clean” or “pure” Christianity, as if back at the start of “the Church” there was such a thing! As for me, my embracing of Roman Catholicism (which I did two years ago) is more Newmaneque in theological, dogmatic, and practical terms than anything else – Rome was just closer in liturgical practice and spirit to my Anglo-Catholic heritage and belief system.

    I just think after all these years the Catholic and Orthdox churches have far more in common than they have in disagreement; when you look at the world today, with the emergence of radical Islam, the persecution of Christians across the world, the war on Christianity here in the US, and the splintering of the Protestant and Anglican faiths over post-modern (and some would say, post-Christian teaching and belief), the commonality, reverence, humility, and beauty that that Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches bring to the worship of God should be something that brings our churches together, not apart as a result of dusty and musty disagreements over authority and teaching. Surely we can find a way to live, worship, and teach together in harmony in the kind of challenging world we find ourselves in!

    Would love to hear your own thoughts on this. Again, thanks for your comment, don’t be a stranger!

    Comment by The Great White Shank — February 7, 2012 @ 5:00 pm

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