Post-Clerical Catholics

When my fellow columnist Daniel P. Horan, O.F.M., stirred up a hornet’s nest with his column on clericalism a few months back, I followed the conversation with great interest. To be fair, my curiosity had little to do with Father Horan’s assertion that there is a cultivated sense of separateness among some young clergy (an observation I agree with). Nor was I particularly focused on the many comments criticizing or defending clerical wardrobe choices, issues of Catholic identity and so on.

What struck me was how disconnected I felt from the entire conversation surrounding clericalism. It felt as if an intramural discussion was taking place in an arena whose attendance numbers continue to dwindle. Who were these people with such passionate, high expectations or bitter disappointments regarding their parish priests? The sad reality for me and countless others I know who remain connected to Catholicism is that, for better or worse, our expectations of the clergy are much more modest. The bar is set pretty low.

In my experience, the issues many Catholics face at the parish level have little to do with whether the preaching is inspired or the liturgies are beautifully executed. They aren’t particularly exercised over clerical attire either. “For my family and friends who want to raise their kids Catholic,” a woman who works in church circles told me, “clericalism isn’t even on their radar. Gen-Xers and millennials don’t have the deference for clergy—or the expectations—our parents did.” She told me her own expectations were low. People feel it’s a nice bonus to have simply a reasonably healthy and balanced priest with some pastoral gifts.

It’s a sad state of affairs that I’ve heard echoed over and over even among young clergy. “It continues to surprise me,” a recently ordained Carmelite told me. “If you are real, relatable and make an effort to be relevant to parishioners’ lives, you are a rock star.” Another priest who has filled in at numerous parishes for 10 years told me, “People seem to be so hungry for something more. If you can offer them anything that connects their personal lives to the Gospel, they are incredibly appreciative.”

To be sure, this is not an ideal situation. Those of us who hope that Pope Francis’ popularity will inspire a younger generation to enter our doors or lapsed Catholics to return would do well to ask ourselves difficult questions: What are we inviting them to? Are we simply welcoming them back to a church that reminds them why they left in the first place?

Given the circumstances, it might appear to church outsiders that those of us still inside are suffering from some form of ecclesiastical Stockholm syndrome. I would argue that we are a sign of hope.

We are still here because we know, at some fundamental level, that we long for something sacred beyond ourselves and our lives. We might not entirely understand that sacredness, but we believe that approaching it in community and participating in it sacramentally is important. We are “remnant Catholics” of a different sort. When, at times, we are faced with clergy who fall short of our expectations, we are forced to be—in a twisted nod to Hazel Motes in “Wise Blood”—a Holy Church in Spite of the Church.

Of course, we need good priests as leaders and pastors. Make no mistake; there are still plenty of priests who are real, relatable and relevant, and our love for them is familial and fierce. In fact, a growing number of us are part of a nascent “pilgrim church” that journeys far outside our local parish boundaries to attend Mass and find spiritual nourishment with them and the communities they lead.

As the pope said regarding clericalism, we need more “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.” For those who are waiting for these shepherds to arrive, it will be important to remind ourselves that the sheep, ultimately, don’t exist for the sake of the shepherd.

It also helps to remember that this challenge isn’t new. Back in 1959, Flannery O’Connor described an exchange with a relative’s non-Catholic husband, who entered the church after years of attending Mass with his wife. When asked what finally changed his mind, he said, “The sermons were so horrible, [I] knew there must be something else there to make the people come.”

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Bill McGarvey
3 years 8 months ago

Thanks for your request for clarification, Stephen.

"I am, however, puzzled by your opinion that we are not called to judge “the nature of other people's faith commitment”, ... when I am someone’s sponsor in the RCIA program, I am called to judge the nature of their faith commitment and I must share my judgment with the pastor.

I think we can safely make the distinction between being an RCIA sponsor--who is tasked with and intimately involved in mentoring another's entry into the church--and the type of judgement that goes on elsewhere, particularly on the web (specifically on my column in this case), where people somehow feel entitled to judge other's fitness as Catholics. That seems to me to be a clear case of speck v plank syndrome. Unless they've been granted some extraordinary authority here on earth that none of us are yet aware of or they can see into the heart of the person, I just think it's wiser to tread very lightly.

 

Michael Barberi
3 years 8 months ago
Anne and Bill, Two outstanding commentaries. Thank you for them. Stephen, You should reflect on the wise thoughts of Anne and Bill. I can add nothing.
Stephen Benson
3 years 8 months ago
Michael - here's an example of what I asserted in my comment to Bill above - you made a judgment that Anne's and Bill's thoughts are "wise" and that I should reflect on them. I now have to make a judgment about your claim.
Michael Barberi
3 years 8 months ago
Stephen, My short comment of "wise" was indeed my judgement. No one is saying that people do not make judgments. God gave us a mind and reason for that purpose, as well as a faith. The previous threads were in context of judging one's faithfulness. The issue was more about a definition of faithfulness than an issue of judgment. You are free to disagree with my comments or anyone else's. However, it one thing to judge a Catholic as faithful and another Catholic as unfaithful merely because they disagree with some moral teachings. Again, the issue was about a definition of a faithful and unfaithful Catholic. The majority of Catholics disagree with many teachings about sexual ethics and attend weekly Mass and strive to love God and neighbor. Contraception is one example. I would not call them unfaithful.
Stephen Benson
3 years 8 months ago
Thank you for your clarification Bill. It seems to me that humans (and I include Christ, Our Lady, and St. Joseph in this group) are always making judgments; and I do not think that the human act that the phrase “to make a judgment” denotes is an intrinsically bad act. But, I do agree, as you seem to imply by the veiled reference to the Gospel of St. Matthew, that the “measure” a person uses to make a judgment can be “bad” or “faulty”. I do want to explore the link between this vital human act and the newness that Christ introduces into it with everyone, I would like to back into it by exploring two intertwined spiritual works of mercy – “To instruct the ignorant” and “To admonish sinners” which I will, for the sake of simplicity, group together under the umbrella phrase, “Fraternal Correction”. And I’d like to explore this because I would like to increase my knowledge of how to best comply with this largely forgotten, and in my opinion, often neglected obligation of Charity. I don’t think this is your view, but I have had some Christians tell me that we should not perform these two spiritual works of mercy because we must be “tolerant” and so that prompted me to ask two questions: 1) what has Christ, through His Church (i.e., the saints, Magisterium, theologians, brothers and sisters in Christ, etc.), taught about fraternal correction? and 2) Is what the culture I live in taught me about the word “tolerance” true and correct? Regarding the second question, I was especially interested in understanding if tolerance had to be linked to relativism, as those I know and my culture advocates. This is a personal educational project and one of the reasons I started to read this blog is because I would like to have as holistic an understanding of the answers to my two questions as possible. I will share with you that as of today, because of my studies, it is clear to me that “tolerance” implies respect for people but not agreement with their error or fault. So, if a fellow Christian advocates that Christians can follow Christ without the Church, I believe that that assertion is an error that must be refuted as charitably as possible even doing so risks making the person angry or hurting their feelings. I would even go so far as to say that a person who advocates this error is actually following a Christ they’ve created in their own image and likeness. Forgive me, but I have to stop now in order to get a good night’s rest. I will continue my comment to you tomorrow and also reply to Anne’s, Michael’s and Tim’s comments too.
Anne Chapman
3 years 8 months ago
You raise an important point. I have read and also been told by teachers in RCIA programs (but anecdotal evidence only) that many who go through RCIA don't really buy into ALL that is taught by the Catholic church. They are often joining for family reasons, and some for aesthetic reasons - they like the liturgy and the sacraments and the ritual, but they don't necessarily believe (one common example) that contraception is a sin (and if they are doing RCIA because of marriage, most likely their spouse or fiance does not accept Catholic teaching on contraception either but they agree on a "don't ask, don't tell" policy!). Some are tired of controversies in their previous church denomination and are seeking at least a temporary (if possibly illusory) peace in a church that defines things in black and white. Sometimes it's easier to hand over conscience to others to form for you. No exhausting struggle needed! It is unfortunate that you have been asked to play judge, which is a really a rather unchristian thing for both you and the candidate. Your statement: "... if a Catholic says that they do not believe it (the Assumption) I can make a judgment on how committed they are to the Faith". You have equated "Faith" with the teachings of one particular christian denomination, whereas most would equate "Faith", at least christian faith, with the beliefs in the creeds and in the statements you quote above (150, 151, 152). Many equate Faith without qualifiers as simply faith in God, by whatever name one calls God. So it is important to differentiate between terms - for many, the word "faith" or "christian faith" is a big, roomy, welcoming term encompassing belief about God and Jesus and the gospels and permitting a range of understandings. When you refer specifically to singular teachings of one denomination, then you should perhaps replace "how committed they are to the Faith" with "how committed they are to the teachings of the Roman Catholic church". Being committed to the [christian] Faith does not mean accepting all teachings of one denomination in the christian faith - such as the Marian dogmas or the teaching on contraception. There is nothing at all to support either of those teachings in the scriptures, so to question them is not questioning Faith with a capital F. It is questioning the official interpretation of a relative handful of men in one denomination. The Marian dogmas are the result of human theorizing and reasoning - the theologians had to figure out how to make Mary not quite fully human (to be worthy of being the mother of Jesus) without calling her divine. Tricky. She was, according to the Catholic church, conceived without sin - most Christians with great Faith believe that only Jesus was conceived without sin. And many do not accept the teaching on original sin anyway. The danger of triumphalism is always lurking somewhere in the Catholic church it seems, and equating Faith with the Roman Catholic church exclusively is an example of it. Accepting teachings exclusive to the Catholic church has nothing to do with having faith in God, in Jesus, and in the gospels. The Roman Catholic church has a 1000 page catechism. It is longer than the New Testament of the bible. It describes beliefs that are often not mentioned in the bible at all such as the Marian dogmas, as well as "hot button" issues such as contraception. The "natural law" that the church hangs so much of its teachings on is increasingly suspect - why? - perhaps because it is based on the thinking and ideas of pagan philosophers who lived before Jesus was even born. It is not based on the bible. Many do not accept the gospel according to Aristotle, but they do not lack faith or even Faith. Many do not accept all of the "gospel" according to Aquinas either (and remember, even Aquinas was also suppressed by the church at one point). I have read (but can't pull up references right now - the data do exist - maybe CARA?), that a statistically significant number of converts drop out after a few years because of teachings of the church that they did not actually realize were "must believes to be Catholic" (at least they are "must believes" in the eyes of some). I was told by a friend who taught RCIA that the teachers were told to avoid hot button issues for discussion and change the subject - and that if someone asked, they should refer that person to the pastor. She was also told to remove several entries from her recommended optional reading list - including America magazine - not "orthodox" enough apparently because it welcomes open discussions such as this one. The acceptable reading list was bland enough for any second-grade level Catholic. Apparently this particular RCIA program did not want its program participants to be even be aware of the wide range of thought in the church nor did it want them to think too much about ALL the teachings of the church, including some that might convince them that maybe joining the Roman Catholic church might not be a good idea. But that should be up to the prospective candidate rather than someone who "judges" their commitment to the Faith or even to all the Roman Catholic teachings. Because an even bigger problem than the different meanings possible for the word "Faith" is the common failure by too many of presenting ALL current teachings of the church as written in stone (so to speak) without nuance, without reference to primacy of conscience, without reference to the hierarchy of truths, or to the development of doctrine. It ignores church history, a history that has many examples of the wrongness of the official church and its teachings, and its too frequent persecutions of those who were prophetic in leading the church to new and deeper understandings of the scriptures. How many were silenced, disciplined, sometimes imprisoned, sometimes excommunicated and sometimes even executed for heresy who were later declared "blessed" and some even "saint"? A number of years ago I read an essay called "When Wrong Turns out to be Right" describing a few of the many occasions when the official church condemned ideas that it later embraced. (Blessed) John Newman is a famous convert. What is less known is that he was also a notorious "dissenter". His essay in The Rambler that constituted the entire final issue that he edited is called "On Consulting the Faithful on Matters of Doctrine". He wrote it after the British bishops had fired him from his job for his "dissenting" ideas and he used the final issue to explain in depth exactly why the handful of anonymous, faceless men who are known collectively as "the magisterium" should not always be considered the "last word" on everything.. Newman's essay is a reminder to all that the official teaching church is not always right, and that when the officials of the church discipline and silence theologians (as they did Newman) that may be a signal that they should revisit some teachings and perhaps to "develop" doctrine a bit. Ironically, the Marian dogmas are the only two "ex cathedra" dogmas in existence and they were so declared because they represented what were for many centuries the strongly held beliefs of the ordinary laity. Few Catholics today really care a whole lot about whether or not they represent literal "Truth" so it is interesting that someone in an RCIA class might "flunk" for not accepting the teaching of the Assumption. So, what does it mean to be Catholic? Is it really something so small and so likely to be proven wrong at some point as a list of "must believes"? Or is it something much bigger, much deeper, much broader, much richer than that? Perhaps the "must believe" aspect of much of the list should be tempered a bit, should be qualified with a caveat that "this is what the official church teaches at the moment based on thinking. But we know that our teachings have sometimes been wrong, and often need development as history and knowledge continue to be revealed and while we hope that you will study and pray and reflect about teachings with which you disagree, you must follow your conscience" - and you can probably still be a Roman Catholic.
Stephen Benson
3 years 8 months ago
Thank you for your thoughtful reply Anne. I am reflecting on what you wrote and promise to share my thoughts with you soon.
Stephen Benson
3 years 8 months ago
You certainly raised many points Anne and I will try to respond to most of them in the order that you listed them. From what I can see, each parish implements the RCIA program in a more or less faithful manner as outlined in the documents about the RCIA program. In my parish, we use the material from the Association for Catechumenal Ministry (ACM) (http://acmrcia.org/getting-started-rcia) because it is faithful to what the Second Vatican Council wanted the RCIA program to be. I too have encountered the problem of people not “buy into ALL that is taught by the Catholic church (sic)” and when that comes up in the “inquiry stage” we (the RCIA team) often suggest that they postpone moving on to the other stages. Why? Because the Catholic Christian Faith is not a “smorgasbord Faith”. I believe the problem you highlight stems from what I call “the rushing game.” Many parishes seem to rush people through the program and I think this should stop, and that a 2 or 3 year program should be used instead. (I have the same complaint about the current pre-Cana programs too!) Turning to your comments about “Faith”, it seems to me that you are reducing Faith to the Religious Sense (“faith in God, by whatever name one calls God”), a sense that all human persons have. But one of the foundational beliefs of the Christian Faith is that God became man in Jesus of Nazareth. This fact implies that God uses a method (Caro Cardo Salutis) to transmit His revelation to us and that this method is still being used today. So, since I believe that Christ and the Church are one (see what Christ tells St. Paul on the road to Damascus, see the document “Dominus Iesus”, etc.), precisely because of His faithfulness to His chosen method, I do not believe that the Catholic Church is simply a particular denomination but rather the original Church that Christ established, sustains, and is building on Peter and that all the denominations that broke away are shadows of the original. I am not saying these things to offend you, but rather, to express what I believe as clearly as possible. Looking at your assertion that there are different meanings possible for the word "Faith" – I agree but my question is: “Are all the different meanings accurate?” I, like you, agree that we must all hear and follow the voice of a well-formed conscience, but, “conscience” is a license for dissent, as some seem to think. I am jet-lagged so I am going to stop now and resume later.
Michael Barberi
3 years 8 months ago
I agree with Bill McGarvey, so I will not repeat his comments. When the Church was faced with significant disagreement in past centuries, teachings and practices were reformed. Today, we face another crisis in truth and a dramatic non-reception to many moral teachings. This also means that a significant percentage of young Catholics are moving in the opposite direction of young priests and the hierarchy. The bad news is that this cannot go on forever, for a Church divided will eventually become irrelevant to many future generations of Catholics. The good news is that the winds of the Holy Spirit blow in and through the Church, in and through the people of God, and like in past centuries it may take time, perhaps decades, for a better understanding of truth and responsible reform to materialize. Until then, we must be guided by the Holy Spirit and our informed conscience as we'll as our faith, reason and human experience. This also means frequent prayer, sacrament, continued theological education, and the spiritual advice of religious experts and clergy. Let's pray that Pope Francis will speed us to the truth and a more truthful message, a message not only about our love and obligations to the poor but in teachings that help us make the right moral decisions.
Tom Helwick
3 years 8 months ago
I heard this talk by the Tablet's Robert Mickens last year when it being broadcast live from the Cleveland City Club, the subject of which is pertinent to this discussion. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PyPUzfJ8X50
Michael Barberi
3 years 8 months ago
Tom, Thanks for the talk by Robert Mickens. While this talk took place in Nov 2012, before Pope Benedict XVI stepped down and Pope Francis became the new pope, the issues he discussed still remains very pertinent to this discussion. I particularly enjoyed the important question and answer session that followed the presentation.
Henry Velasquez
3 years 8 months ago
I think that this layperson’s video is more pertinent to what’s written below than Robert C. Mickens' video - here’s the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFyfqs1d3kY
Michael Barberi
3 years 8 months ago
Anyone who demeans and despises Catholics with hateful discourse who are 100% believers in every Church teaching should have no role in the RCC. However, those Catholics that disagree with certain moral teachings for legitimate philosophical and theological reasons should not be despised or be the subject of name-calling as well. They are equally faithful to the RCC despite the so-called definition of "faithful Catholics" and the negative undertone that this video claims with certainty.
Stephen Benson
3 years 8 months ago
Michael - isn't the Church wide enough so that someone like the speaker in the video you disliked could and should have a role in the RCC? Sure, all of us have different tastes, different trends, different tendencies, but it seems to me that everyone has something to offer the whole Church. However, you seem to disagree and I am surprised by that considering some of your previous comments. Perhaps some clarification would be helpful.
Michael Barberi
3 years 8 months ago
Stephen, You misread my commentary. Perhaps a better explanation will be clearer. The person talking in the video was chastising those Catholics that despise, demean or denigrate Catholics who believe in every Church teaching. My point was to agree with him by saying that anyone who uses hateful language or discourse against those who believe in every Church teaching should have no role in the RCC….because hateful and evil attitudes and actions are against the Gospel. Likewise, anyone who demeans and denigrates those Catholics who disagree with some Church teachings for legitimate philosophical and theological reasons should be held to the same standard. I felt that the speaker was preaching from a self-imposed higher moral ground by classifying Catholics who disagree with certain teachings for good reasons as second-class Catholics. His tone was negative and dispirited. Make no mistake about what I am saying. I encourage respectful debate on controversial issues. I do not demean any Catholic that strives to be faithful and love God and neighbor. Even in disagreement, I encourage patience, respect and understanding without harsh language or evil intentions. I felt that the speaker was not appropriately nuancing his overall message. For him, there are the faithful and the unfaithful based on "his" definition of faithfulness.
Tom Helwick
3 years 8 months ago
Perhaps Cardinal O'Malley's humble gesture is an example we all should follow. http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/01/17/church-ritual-shared-between-cardinal-sean-malley-and-methodist-minister-stokes-internet-buzz/6qQ1j6Fv4pHLHv0IlaDAwL/story.html
Bill McGarvey
3 years 8 months ago

Thanks for sharing that Tom. It's a powerful image made more powerful by the accompanying story about the woman's struggles in ministry.

Michael Barberi
3 years 8 months ago
Thank you Tom for this story about Cardinal O'Malley and his loving gesture to a United Methodist woman minister on the feast of Jesus's baptism. It demonstrated an act of inclusion as Christians in the Body of Christ. It was a far cry from hateful speech, evil attitudes or a claim of moral superiority towards other Christians who also strive to love God and neighbor.
Tim O'Leary
3 years 8 months ago
Thanks for sharing this, Tom. I agree that humble expressions of fellowship like this with other Christians, or indeed, with members of other religions (such as when Christians wear a yarmulke at the wailing wall in Jerusalem) do foster Ecumenism. As long as nothing is done that compromises or denies a doctrinal truth (thus preserving the faith we are bound to), this can be an act of love. In my opinion, taking Communion at another Church (apart from the Orthodox Churches) crosses the line, given the chasm in understanding of that sacramental act. It is also a humble and charitable act for a Protestant visiting a Catholic mass not to go forward for Communion. It shows respect for Catholics and their beliefs.
Stephen Benson
3 years 8 months ago
A very beautiful gesture - thanks for linking to the story Tom.
Stephen Benson
3 years 8 months ago
Yes, I misunderstood what you were trying to say, so thank you for the clarification Michael. I agree that persons should never be intentionally demeaned and/or denigrated. The most interesting thing about watching both videos is that each presenter promotes his definition of Catholic Christian “faithfulness” to their audience (one audience is actually present and the other presumed) but my question is: “What principle or principles should a person use to judge which presenter’s definition is faithful to what Christ actually teaches?”
Tim O'Leary
3 years 8 months ago
I thank Stephen Benson for his comments below. He reminds us that being a Christian is first of all, before any doctrinal understanding, an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ, and a commitment to follow him and all He teaches, no matter where it leads. I am a Catholic because I am convinced the Roman Catholic Church is Jesus's mystical body and His authentic teacher - the only Church on earth with the keys. I do not want to expand the ever narrowing thread below but do want to get to a distinction between judging an idea or opinion or fact vs. judging the soul of a person. Bill. In the quotes you use regarding the Creed, notice the repetitive use of "begin." If a Catholic leaves the practice of the Catholic faith for a Protestant denomination or a SBNR mentality, they can still hold the Nicene Creed in total. They might deny the efficacy of Baptism, or Communion or the truth of the whole moral law or the teaching authority of the Magisterium and all the Councils after 381 and still hold fully to the Nicene Creed. We have no hope of reaching those who leave the Church if we don't listen to why they left or don't recognize they left at all. Again, a loss of faith, or a change in belief, is a much more charitable judgment than to think they willfully abandoned the faith or succumbed to apathy or indifference. Anne. Your use of the term faith might be apt if it intends to mean a non-Catholic Christian or at least a follower of Jesus. Protestant and Spiritual But Not Religious (SBNR) folk do not have an accepted common doctrinal understanding of anything, beyond, perhaps that Jesus was God (or at least, for the SBNRs, was a very good man). The Catholic faith is considerably more binding than that. I was speaking of the distancing from the Roman Catholic Faith as taught by the successors of Peter. But it is good to know your meaning as well so we can distinguish what is what. I also think it is very important, especially in discussions, to distinguish judging the guilt of a person's soul (the speck-log metaphor Jesus warned against), from judging the factual claims, the logic or reasoning of a person's statement. I think Pope Francis makes this distinction when he condemns, for example, clericalism. He is not judging priests as individuals but warning them (and lay people) of an incorrect understanding of the priestly role. He is not judging the souls of the rich (who among us is not rich compared to the truly deprived in Africa or Asia?) when he strongly preaches a preferential provision for the poor. Similarly, he can condemn a system of gay marriage or gay adoption or gay sex while refraining from judging the state of a person's soul who is living a homosexual life. But, not everyone can see his clear distinctions between judging the sin and not the sinner. The discussion on judging going on in this thread is not even of this type. It relates to possible reasons why people stopped believing that the Catholic faith and it's sacramental grace might be essential for salvation (if one believes the Catholic Church is the true Church). I would say that loss of faith is the most charitable interpretation (as opposed to willful rejection). If someone says they no longer believe it necessary, it is surely not wrong to recognize that. It is part of listening, a lack of which some complain about on this blog. If someone comes up with a novel or Reformation-like concept of the Eucharist, or Predestination, or a modern Protestant-light concept of sexual ethics it is a completely non-judgmental and appropriate intellectual judgment to point out that a view is not Catholic or to point to a logical or doctrinal contradiction or historical deviation. No discussion could go very far without these intellectual judgments of one another's points or positions.
Stephen Benson
3 years 8 months ago
Thank you Tim for your thoughts, which I wholeheartedly share, especially your last paragraph. I sometimes have the impression that people care more about the "form" of a discussion or presentation and less about the content of what's being said. I say that because I have been guilty of doing that in the past and probably will do so again in the future. Again, thanks.
Michael Barberi
3 years 8 months ago
There is an undercurrent in some of these thread comments about a certain absoluteness of the term faithfulness. While I have expressed some of my thoughts, both independently and in connection with others, I find missing any discussion of a hierarchy of truth either in the articles of faith or in moral norms. Some adhere to a strict adherence to every Church teaching, while others have issues with some moral norms, claimed as moral absolutes. I wonder how important are the beliefs in transubstantiation or the assumption of Mary or her perpetual virginity, that Protestants do not ascribe to, are critical to one's "salvation"? I accept many of these teachings but do not believe that a Protestant who lives a life in accordance with the Gospel, like most Catholics, but does not believe in such Catholic teachings, lacks sufficient grace for their salvation, while a similarly situated Catholic somehow possesses something more for their salvation merely because they believe in such teachings. Make no mistake about what I am saying. There are certain teachings that are fundamentally necessary for one's salvation. I am not preaching dissension or that Catholics should pick and choose the teachings that suit their station in life. I question the lack of any discussion about a hierarchy of truth, the belief that the RCC is the "only certain way" to salvation, and the "certitude" that a Catholic is only faithful unless they believe in every Church teaching.
Stephen Benson
3 years 8 months ago
I’ve been doing some research on your point in this comment and I have discovered that Dr. William E. May in his article “Authority and Dissent in the Catholic Church” wrote the following, which I think relates to your point very well. (Please note the section I have bolded below). So, perhaps, if you are saying what Dr. May is saying we have a common ground that we can build on – and that would make me very happy since it’s always vital to build on the positive. Keep in mind that I am a catechist by training and so I see everything as a catechetical issue, which I don’t think is a bad thing! I realize, however, that you and others may not have the starting point that I do. 4. The response due moral teachings authoritatively but not infallibly proposed I have argued that the central core of Catholic moral teaching has been infallibly proposed by the ordinary magisterium. Even if one were to disagree with this argument (which I believe is sound), one must acknowledge that the magisterium does teach with a more than merely human authority on moral questions. Moreover, it proposes moral norms not as legalistic rules but as truths of Christian life. Moral teachings authoritatively but not infallibly proposed as true are binding upon the consciences of the faithful, including pope, bishops, theologians, and ordinary laypeople. All the faithful are to give these teachings a religious submission (obsequium religiosum) of will and mind. Teachings authoritatively proposed are proposed as true, not as opinions or “prudential guidelines.” Still, such teachings are not infallibly proposed; they are not proposed as “definitively to be held.” This raises the question of the nature of the “religious submission” of will and mind and the question of dissent. Precisely what does this entail? 5. The nature of the “obsequium religiosum” and the question of dissent It is interesting to note that the term “dissent” did not appear in theological literature prior to the end of Vatican Council II. The “approved” manuals to which the three bishops, who wanted Lumen gentium 25 to say something about the nature of the "obsequium religiosum" required for teaching authoritatively but not infallibly proposed, were referred did not speak of legitimate theological dissent from such teaching. Rather, they recognized that a theologian (or other well-informed Catholic) might not in conscience be able to give internal assent to some teachings. They thus spoke of “withholding assent” and raising questions, but this is a far cry from “dissent.” The Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has addressed this matter. It recognized that theologians (and others) might question not only the form but even the substantive content of some authoritatively proposed magisterial teachings. It held that it is permissible in such instances to withhold assent, to raise questions (and present them to the magisterium), to discuss the issues with other theologians (and be humble enough to accept criticism of one’s own views by them). Theologians (and others) can propose their views as hypotheses to be considered and tested by other theologians and ultimately to be judged by those who have, within the Church, the solemn obligation of settling disputes and speaking the mind of Christ. But it taught one is not giving a true "obsequium religiosum" if one dissents from magisterial teaching and proposes one’s own position as a position that the faithful are at liberty to follow, substituting it for the teaching of the magisterium. But this is precisely what has been occurring. Dissent of this kind is not compatible with the obsequium religiosum. In fact, those who dissent in this way really usurp the teaching office of bishops and popes. Theologians, insofar as they are theologians, are not pastors in the Church. When they instruct the faithful that the teachings of those who are pastors in the Church (the pope and bishops) are false and that the faithful can put those teachings aside and put in their place their own theological opinions, they are harming the Church and arrogantly assuming for themselves the pastoral role of pope and bishops. Dissent, understood in this sense, is thus completely incompatible with the obsequium religiosum required for teachings authoritatively but not infallibly proposed.
Stephen Benson
3 years 8 months ago
This article by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J. (who was a great catechist) on St. Ignatius’ “Rules for Thinking with the Church”, may be of interest to you and others also. Here is the link: http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Christian_Spirituality/Christian_Spirituality_031.htm
Michael Barberi
3 years 8 months ago
Steven, Thank you for your comment. There is much disagreement within the Church regarding what teachings are infallible and non-infallible. Orsey's book, mentioned later, discusses this issue in more detail. There are many others. I rarely, if ever, use the term "dissent" when describing my position on certain moral norms. To me, it is a perforative term that divides rather than solidifies us. I always refer to my own "disagreement" with certain moral teachings based on legitimate philosophical and theological reasons. It is a decision of my "informed" conscience and being "informed" is an on-going lifetime of education and reflection. People who disagree with certain moral teachings based on their informed conscience must be guided by what it means to inform one's conscience. At a minimum this means: > giving respect and priority to the Church teaching, > adequately educating oneself on the issue under consideration until there are no more questions to be asked, > continuing to educate oneself on the subject for new scholarship and God's grace continues to help us make the right moral decisions, > praying and frequently receiving the sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharist, > seeking the constant guidance of both theological experts and priestly spiritual advisors, and > striving to be humble and open-minded for we all do not see the truth fully or completely. The Church teaches that one must never go against one's informed conscience. This does not mean picking and choosing the teachings that suit one's station in life. If a Catholic disagrees with a moral teaching of the Church they must be prepared to stand before Christ and make an accounting of their disagreement. Nothing I have said was meant to propose that my own judgment in good conscience is to be held by the faithful, substituting it for the teaching of the magisterium. I am merely expressing my views as others do on America Magazine. There are many good books on this broad subject. A few suggestions would be: Teaching with Authority by Richard Gaillaretz; A History of Catholic Moral Theology in the Twenieth Century, by James F. Keenan; Moral Theology No. 6: Dissent in the Church edited by Charles Curran and Richard McCormick; Conscience, edited by Charles Curran; Receiving the Council by Ladislas Orsey; The Crisis of Authority in Catholic Modernity by Michael J. Lacey and Francis Oakley; and Why You Can Disagree and Remain a Faithful Catholic by Philip S. Kaufman. For more on the Church's official position regarding sexual ethics (where there is most disagreement) I also suggest Catholic Sexual Ethics by Rev. Ronald Lawler, Joseph Boyle and William E. May. Of course, these are only a few of the many good books on the market today. I like the title of Kaufman's book "Whey You Can Disagree and Remain a Faithful Catholic" because it captures one aspect of my thought. However, it took me many years of study, prayer and counsel, before I could say my conscience was at least starting to be informed, despite the fact that we never truly see the complete truth and our conscience is always being informed. I hope this provides more clarity regarding my previous posting.
Stephen Benson
3 years 8 months ago
Thank you for your comment Michael and please call me Stephen. And thank you for the reminder that some words carry a tremendous “pejorative weight” and can, therefore, derail a dialogue - something I easily forget. Your comment about disagreement reminded me of one of my favorite documents of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI: Dear Brothers, during the days when I first had the idea of writing this letter, by chance, during a visit to the Roman Seminary, I had to interpret and comment on Galatians 5:13-15. I was surprised at the directness with which that passage speaks to us about the present moment: “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’. But if you bite and devour one another, take heed that you are not consumed by one another.” I am always tempted to see these words as another of the rhetorical excesses which we occasionally find in Saint Paul. To some extent that may also be the case. But sad to say, this “biting and devouring” also exists in the Church today, as expression of a poorly understood freedom. Should we be surprised that we too are no better than the Galatians? That at the very least we are threatened by the same temptations? That we must always learn anew the proper use of freedom? And that we must always learn anew the supreme priority, which is love?”
Michael Barberi
3 years 8 months ago
Stephen, All of our discussions, beliefs and disagreements, must be put into context so that we do not lose the greater commandment to love God and neighbor. We often get into the details about doctrine, etc, but as long as its purpose is to move a respectful conversation forward toward a better understanding of truth, then we need not overly worry over comparisons with history. The is much truth about an excessive and irresponsible use of freedom. However, as the wise saying goes, the inappropriate use of things like freedom, should not take away from the legitimate use of freedom by the rest of us. In this regard the virtues are a good guiding principle.
Carolyn Disco
3 years 8 months ago
Amen, Amen.
Carolyn Disco
3 years 8 months ago
Thank you heartily to Michael Barberi, Anne Chapman, Joseph J, Jim McCrea - hope I remember all commenters who give me hope and sound a note of welcome. Chastisement about dissent gets absolutely nowhere, IMHO. You cannot argue someone into the truth, you can only love them into it. And I believe what is true is not necessarily determined by every hierarchical pronouncement. History is replete with examples. Quote from Benedict XVI when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, courtesy of Joseph J in 2011: “Over the pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority there still stands one’s own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, if necessary even against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority. This emphasis on the individual, whose conscience confronts him with a supreme and ultimate tribunal [God], and one which in the last resort is beyond the claim of external social groups, even of the official Church, also establishes a principle in opposition to increasing totalitarianism. Genuine ecclesiastical obedience is distinguished from any totalitarian claim which cannot accept any ultimate obligation of this kind beyond the reach of its dominating will.” Joseph Ratzinger, Part I, Chapter 1, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Vol. V of COMMENTARY ON THE DOCUMENTS OF VATICAN II, ed. Herbert Vorgrimler (New York: Herder and Herder, 1969, p. 134) I am responsible to God in prayer for my decisions and need always humbly seek His guidance in more than a bit of trembling. For their part, priests and bishops can no longer rule by fear, claiming by their actions, if not words, an ontological superiority over non-clerics. Thank God more and more laity are growing up on that score, though I see a dispiriting resurgence of clericalist attitudes among younger clergy; IOW regression toward a cultic model of priesthood. I believe clericalism is the poison behind the abuse crisis where those supposed to protect the innocent chose "willful blindness, conscious ignorance and flagrant indifference" to the dangers priests posed to children, in order to protect themselves. The quote is from our state attorney general in a planned indictment of the diocese for child endangerment, wherein the bishop had to admit sufficient evidence for conviction in order to avoid prosecution. He smartly did so. Working with survivors was my wake-up call.
Carolyn Disco
3 years 8 months ago
Past time for all to wake up about the cover-ups of bishops. Why have none been sanctioned in any way? News released just this past week: St. Paul/Minneapolis – comprehensive report of cover-up by archbishops. Nienstedt is a disgrace to his office; no wonder his canonist resigned in disgust last April. “Secret accounts paid for clergy misconduct but left church open to financial abuse” http://minnesota.publicradio.org/collections/catholic-church/2014/01/23/secret-accounts-kept-clergy-misconduct-quiet-but-left-archdiocese-finances-exposed/?refid=0 ----------------------------------------------- Chicago - took 8 years to get 6,000 documents released for fewer than half of abusers there; victims came forward on George's watch. He belongs in prison for child endangerment. “In Files, a History of Sexual Abuse by Priests in Chicago Archdiocese” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/22/us/chicago-archdiocese-records-of-abuse-complaints.html?hpw&rref=us&_r=0 Moral authority? None.
Bill McGarvey
3 years 8 months ago

While I appreciate--and have done my best to follow--all the passionate conversation my column has generated, I must confess that my comment regarding Fr. Horan's original column on clericalism feeling like "an intramural discussion...taking place in an arena whose attendance numbers continue to dwindle" could just as easily be applied to much of the discussion taking place here.

Arguments over clericalism don't feel all that removed from the rhetorical rabbit hole that debates over heirarchies of truth, the catechism, the nature of dissent etc etc can lead us into. I start to get the creeping feeling that Rome is burning and we are busy handing out fiddles as fast as possible.

Again, that isn't meant to denigrate the role of the catechism and doctrinal debate, it is simply meant to put them into perspective. The temptation to reduce the Catholic faith to these elements is akin to reducing the Sistene Chapel to a conversation about pigments and color theory. It can be interesting in certain contexts but it is hardly transformative. It may tickle the intellect but it doesn't capture the imagination.

In Pope Francis' America interview he stated that he sees the Church "as a field hospital after a battle. It’s pointless to ask a seriously injured patient whether his cholesterol or blood sugar levels are high! It’s his wounds that need to be healed." That sense of urgency is absolutely essential now. I pray that we have the good sense to stock our proverbial field hospital with provisions for the critically wounded and not endless cases of Lipitor.

Tim O'Leary
3 years 8 months ago
Bill - the "field hospital" analogy resonated strongly with me as well. But I interpreted Pope Francis as saying we must focus on the lethal wounds first. I took it to mean the Good News of Salvation, not a fix to the Church's organizational problems. So, the arguments about clericalism, women priests, married priests, prayer translations, music quality, etc. seemed to me to be the endless cases of Lipitor. Jesus's words are full of urgent appeals to personal repentance and turning away from sin, to Baptism and the Eucharist ("Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."; "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you"). Luke begins chapter 13 with a quote from Jesus: “There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” But, of course, not everyone agrees what is urgent and what is important. And people can get very worked up about minor things that irritate. Frankly, it is easier for us all (me included) to focus on things outside ourselves, to fix things that don't require a personal change - a metanoia.
Stephen Benson
3 years 8 months ago
I wonder if it’s this medium (a blog) that encourages “intermural discussions”? I am saying this because when I work with people in person I spend a lot of time stressing that our goal is to become “intentional disciples” of Jesus Christ, the God/man who is deeply, passionately, and unconditionally in love with us. And, if this medium lends itself to that, as I suspect, then what can we do to change that problem? As I wrote to Michael below, I see everything as a catechetical issue because of my training and calling and that’s why I focus on making sure that the personnel in the “field hospital” are properly trained, otherwise they will do more harm than good. And it’s for that reason that I continually focus on these three questions – personally and professionally - How does God make Himself present today? How does He speak to humanity? How does He manifest His “love pushed to the extreme,” which we so badly need? I appreciate your humor Bill and I thank you for giving us the space to have this dialogue.
Bill McGarvey
3 years 8 months ago

I think you're onto something, Stephen, with your observation: "I wonder if it’s this medium (a blog) that encourages “intramural discussions”?"

The web in general has been an enormous gift in terms of democratizing conversation so all voices are heard but it has its limits. I wrote about that very dilemma in my column "Signal/Noise" back in November. I'm sometimes reminded of a quote I love from Elvis Costello (or Frank Zappa or Martin Mull?) "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." I love our ability to discuss all manner of things here about faith and religion but it isn't the same thing as actually living faith and 'doing' religion, which is far more compelling to the countless millions who see little evidence to confound their hunch that religion is an irrelevant artifact from a pre-scientific age.

 

Stephen Benson
3 years 8 months ago
Wow – your column “Signal/Noise” is great – really great Bill, particularly this sentence: “It is why the lives we lead say more about us than our words ever could.” Thanks for linking to it because I hadn’t seen it. BTW, I was laughing so hard at this sentence because it is so true: “Sometimes I feel as if we’ve fallen in love with our hammers instead of the homes they can help us build.”
Bill McGarvey
3 years 8 months ago

Really glad you liked it Stephen...especially glad you got some good laughs as well! ;)

Michael Barberi
3 years 8 months ago
Bill, I read your article signal/noise and found it spot on, especially your comment "It is why the moment I finish typing this I need to close this screen and go “do” some religion instead of just talking about it." We should never turn our eyes, ears and mind off from the bigger message to love God and neighbor for we love God by serving others especially the poor. In my local parish their is a ministry to the Nazareth Orphanage in Tecate, Mexico. People ask me why do I go there? I tell them there is no better place to met Christ. You see Him in the weathered faces of the three nuns who care for 55 poor orphan children; you see Him in the smiles of the children who welcome you. You also hear Christ especially around Christmas time when the children will sing for you before they open the presents that we bring them. If you don't see or hear Christ, you will certainly feel him. All you have to do is look around while you are painting and repairing things at the orphanage toward your fellow Catholics who are working along with you. It is hard to describe, but there is a connection between you and others and Christ and His Spirit that flows between, over, under and through all that are there. So, I wholeheartedly agree with you Bill that it is in "doing religion" that is most important to our Catholic religion. Nevertheless, we should not minimize the most important work of theologians. Clearly the theological debate for the past 50 years has been heated. However, in theological discussions we all "do good work" when we strive to move a respectful conversation forward toward a better understanding of truth. This is also a call by God as well and in some ways is "doing religion". What we must guard against is too much excessiveness, disrespect, and certitude for we never fully see the complete truth. I thank you for your comments and the article on signal/noise. We should never lose of focus on loving God and neighbor…and in "doing religion"…even if we debate in agreement and disagreement.
Tim O'Leary
3 years 8 months ago
Michael - I agree with everything you say in this comment and especially your way of seeing, hearing and feeling Christ and loving Christ in the children and nuns at the Orphanage. Opposing arguments can melt away when we come face to face with love.
Bill McGarvey
3 years 8 months ago

Thanks Michael...

Bill Mazzella
3 years 8 months ago
Great discussion. Sorry that I found it so late. Augustine, I believe, is the main culprit which made the official church more important than the Gospel. The paradox is that the stress on doctrine leads to mediocrity Because if one believes that as long as one believes all that the magisterium dictates salvation is assured there is hardly need to practice the Sermon on the Mount. This is why some historians believe that Augustine introduced mediocrity to the church. As long as one was Catholic one was in good standing with the Lord. Never mind that Augustine used the government to coerce the Donatists to join his group of churches. As long as they were in they were saved from the danger of perishing. This is clericalism at his worst. I maintain that Augustine has caused this terrible distortion in the church. Preferring conformity over conscience and the Beatitudes. Then came the obsession with sacralizing priest because they held the Sacraments and the keys to the kingdom.
Bill McGarvey
3 years 7 months ago

Thanks for your comment Bill. I have nowhere near the knowlege of Augustine to even begin to agree or disagree with your assesment though. Perhaps someone else on here who is more familiar with the history can comment?

Bill Mazzella
3 years 7 months ago
Bill, Note this letter to Pelagius how Augustine will tolerate "burn with envy" and concern about wealth as long as one belongs to the right church. Augustine's letter to Pelagius:"A man of good works who acts from the faith which works through love, who indulges his incontinence within the decent bounds of marriage, who both exacts and renders the debt of the flesh and sleeps with his wife--though only with his wife!--and does so not only for the sake of bringing forth offspring, but even for sheer pleasure....who will put up with wrongs done to him with less than complete patience, but burn with angry desire for revenge...who guards what he possesses and gives alms, though not very generously, who does not take another's goods but defends his own in a court of law--ecclesiastical not civil.(such a man) on account of his right faith in God...,acknowledging his own ignominy and giving the glory to God," 'such a man', Markus adds, 'will depart this life and and be received into the company of the saints destined to remain with Christ.' Marcus uses the word 'tolerance' of mediocrity. If he is saying these words to indicate that this is what the Pelagians preach against then I side with the Pelagians except for the part about not having pleasure with ones spouse in sexual union. O'Donnell quoting the same letter to the Pelagians comments: "The ordinary man, Augustine, is sure will go to heaven, because he goes to the right church and has the right faith." O'Donnell further states that Augustine is saying that "other men just like this one but who happen to find themselves in church buildings of which Augustine disapproves will not be treated so kindly." Pg 270 Augustine a Biography. It is like all one has to do is belong to the right church and crertain behavior is not a problem. That is mediocrity. Here is Augustine on forcing other Christians to join the Catholic church. nisi hoc terrore perculisi -- under the terror of this danger---Augustine on saying that many Donatists would not have changed their minds unless they were forced (under the terror of this danger) to join the CAtholic Church. His point: Forcing them enables them to convert. Ep93.5.17
Tim O'Leary
3 years 7 months ago
Bill – I would agree that the Church can appear much more accommodating of men’s weaknesses than Jesus appears in the Gospels (although many people less familiar with the Gospel texts surprisingly think the opposite). The Lord frequently used absolutes or extremes - plucking out an eye to avoid sin, the consequences of using the word “fool” or just having lustful thoughts, the camel and the eye of a needle, the evil of hypocrites, and some of the urgencies regarding the necessity of Baptism and the Eucharist for salvation that I mentioned below. But he also stressed forgiveness and mercy (forgiving 7x7). St. Paul also sometimes followed Jesus’ lead in using harsh words (1 Cor 6:9 “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God”). But, he too was softer when he discussed the importance of sanctifying grace, even in relation to his own weakness: (“Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 2 Cor 12:8). However, I would not agree with your use of the term “mediocrity” or “clericalism.” Rather, it is the type of softness that we might associate with a loving mother when the father lays down the law. And the Lord did say that Mother Church had the power to bind and loose. I certainly would not associate the softness with St. Augustine, who is rarely thought to be so lenient. I would not at all think this softness a symptom of clericalism. It is not as if the clerics in the Early Church Fathers were exempting themselves from the strictures. And the demands for sacraments, the handing on of the keys and the power to bind and loose are all in the Gospels.
Bill Mazzella
3 years 7 months ago
Tim, I am not against forgiveness. We are all sinners . Augustine forgave only if you were orthodox. This is a major error. Unfortunately, much of the West followed him The Sermon on the Mount was considered only advisory. While the Nicene Creed was di rigeur. The other major error that Augustine, his contemporairies and thereafter was to demand that alms be given to the church or pastors rather than directly to the poor. Thus facilitating the building boom , which lasts to our time, and the enrichment of the clerical class to the detriment of the poor. We are talking about a paradigm change in the fourth century that shifted the focus to doctrine over the Sermon on the Mount.
Stephen Benson
3 years 7 months ago
“Augustine, …made the official church more important than the Gospel.” An interesting claim, is there a citation from St. Augustine’s writings that you are using to support your claim? ““…if one believes that as long as one believes all that the magisterium dictates salvation is assured…” Are you implying that the Catholic Church teaches this belief? ““This is why some historians believe that Augustine introduced mediocrity…” Which historians? ““I maintain that Augustine has caused this terrible distortion in the church. Preferring conformity over conscience and the Beatitudes.” Interesting claim. A question: does conscience conform to anything? ““Then came the obsession with sacralizing priest because they held the Sacraments and the keys to the kingdom.” Seriously… so is it your contention that Christians invented the idea that priests are sacred? I wonder if those that belonged to the tribe of Levi were aware of that?
Bill Mazzella
3 years 7 months ago
Stephen, Re: Historians If you read my posts here you would have seen that Marcus was one of the historians. Peter Brown is another. Alos read O'Donnell. Marcus also calls this age, the fourth century through the 6th, the Age of Hypocrisy. "As saints became ubiquitous, they also changed their functions. In the early Christian community the living faithful prayed to God for their dead; now the dead saint is asked to pray for the living: a whole new liturgy came into being. As the martyr is , literally, detached from the place of his martyrdom and made present wherever his relics have become the center of a cult, so relics began to be seen in a new way.....relics soon became themselves, the seats of holy power, God's preferred channels for miraculous action. A new nexus of social relationships centered around their shrines; their cult provided ways of securing social cohesion in the locality, and one of the means on which bishops depended to consolidate their authority." Robert Marcus. The Oxford History of Christianity.pg90.
Stephen Benson
3 years 7 months ago
Yes, I read your quite fascinating comments now. "Marcus also calls this age, the fourth century through the 6th, the Age of Hypocrisy." ha, ha, ha, I needed a good laugh before going to sleep - thanks. BTW, was there ever an age that did not have hypocrisy? Let's see, didn't the Holy Spirit descend on the Church at Pentecost? The same Holy Spirit that someone who is both God and man described as follows: "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come." And wasn't He helping the Church resolve the Arian Crisis and the Monophysite Crisis; wasn't He involved with the birth of Monasticism? Did He guide the Church after the fall of Rome? Did He help and sustain St. Patrick, St. Ambrose of Milan, St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. John Chrysostom, etc.? I think this is really taking us off topic and I definitely enjoy playing several rounds of "historical ping-pong" but that often turn out to be a futile game - is that something you really want to play? To what end? Lastly, in my opinion, it is often vital to read books by many authors in order to get holistic picture of what might have happened during a particular period in the past. So, for example, have you read "The Building of Christendom" by Warren H. Carroll, particularly volume 2 since it covers the period you are exploring? And yes, I read some of the books you've cited.
Bill Mazzella
3 years 7 months ago
Stephen, Read Brown's book "Eye of the Needle." It answers many of your questions. What made the 4th century the age of hypocrisy was that for the first time Christians were looking to live through holy men rather than practicing the Beatitudes themselves. As if the Saint would get them to heaven rather than their own behavior. Re-read the Marcus quote. The paradigm change is significant.

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