Friday, October 9, 2015

Your Choice: Museum, Do-It-Yourself, or The Church

"If you are trying to be Catholic by defining your religious identity according to the correctness of your beliefs and the way you worship, instead of simply belonging to the plain ol' Roman Catholic Church, then you may have a difficult reevaluation before you. "

Three Models of the Church

Practically speaking, there are three models of the Church.

There are the Orthodox, who scrupulously practice right belief. That's what "orthodox" means. The Catholic Church has little argument with them about what they believe, but still considers them in schism. Heck, Catholics can even receive communion from an Orthodox priest (although the Bear wouldn't advise trying it). The Orthodox have plenty of objections to Catholic doctrines, because they continued to develop after the Great Schism in the 11th century. The Orthodox pretty much think the Catholic Church is a disaster. Of course, they reject the Pope. Not just Pope Francis, but any pope in principle, at least as far as any non-symbolic role goes.

Toss in the Pharisees and add "right practice" to "right belief" as an illustration.

Then there are Protestants, who are heirs to the Reformation started by Martin Luther in The 16th century. Of course, they reject the Pope, and also the Roman Catholic Church. They don't have real sacraments or priests like the Orthodox do. Their Church is the "invisible Church of believers," they like to pretend their Bible is the sole source of doctrine, and the final authority is what Martin Luther called "The great Pope, Self." They have split into approximately 40,000 sects by some estimates, as would be expected of such an individualistic religion.

Toss in pagans, new-agers, and anyone of the DIY religious persuasion by way of illustration.

Then there is the Roman Catholic Church, to which the Bear sincerely hopes you safely belong. It has dogmas and other teachings that must believed, but unlike Orthodoxy, that is not what defines it. As we all know, Jesus did something very interesting, even bold, that is recorded in Matthew 16:18. "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it."

How Jesus Founded the Roman Catholic Church

First of all, against the Protestants, He founded a Church. And against the Orthodox, he founded it on a leader, a pope. At least that is how the Roman Catholic Church has understood this passage from the beginning.

Jesus is God, and He had complete knowledge of the future when he built His house on the rock: weak, impulsive, changeable Simon, whose name he changed to Peter, "Rock." Perhaps Our Lord was being ironic, or perhaps He was giving Simon a name to live up to. He knew one of those Peters would be John XXIII, and foresaw Vatican II. Our own Year of Our Lord 2015 was not beyond Him, and He knew every breath Pope Francis takes and every thought in his head. We don't know what God thinks of Pope Francis, at least the Bear doesn't. We do know Jesus didn't provide a "Francis Exception" in Matthew.

Did Jesus Mess Up Founding His Church?

We may not think that Jesus did a very good job founding his Church. One might even say that obviously Jesus made a huge mistake giving the vast responsibilities of the keys to mere mortals. Clearly, Jesus should have done what the Father did back in Moses' day: give a list of rules and right beliefs to follow and adhere to! Details of worship! With all due respect, let's face it: the Gospel is a bit light on the details.

The "man-rock on the rock" plan was a disaster from the beginning and has made a wreck of the Church in our day.

Peter proved unworthy his whole career. One minute lopping the ear off a slave, the next so scared of a girl he's cursing like a fisherman. Then he's afraid of the Jews and gives the cold shoulder to Gentile Christians. Paul has to set him straight. In fact, Paul winds up doing all the heavy lifting. While Paul practically writes the New Testament, producing long, carefully reasoned theological monographs, Peter -- the first Pope -- writes two short letters. Peter was an underachiever.

And who knew but that someone even worse might be chosen as pope in the future? The Orthodox seem to get along fine without a pope. They tenaciously cling to the ancient faith without too many distractions.

And Protestants, with their own "great Pope, Self" enlightened by the Holy Spirit (they believe), at least have the liberty to make up their own minds when Pastor obviously goes off the rails.

Clinging to right belief, or relying on one's own enlightened personal judgment. Either one is far better than the ridiculous idea of old men choosing other old men according to the politics of the day, don't you think?

If You Want to Be on the Rock, Look for the Fisherman

If we want to be on the rock, we must find where Peter is standing.

Whenever you see some apocalypic comment that the house built on the rock is falling down and we must look elsewhere, you should know immediately that nothing could be further from the truth. We have Jesus' guarantee that the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. The same Church that taught all the doctrines approved of by people who make such comments also taught that it was indefectible. That means it cannot depart from sound teaching or morals, no matter what we fear might happen, or seems to be happening.

If correct doctrine is how a person defines his religion, then the Orthodox have proved you don't need a pope to hold onto the past. Those people who define their religion by correct doctrine of the past would be infinitely happier in the Orthodox Church. In practice, however, the Bear can state from experience that it feels a bit like a museum.

If the visible Roman Catholic Church just isn't to your taste, and you want to reserve the personal freedom to pass judgment on everything that is said, done, taught or decreed, then Protestantism would seem to be the best choice.

But if you trust Jesus' plan for building his Church, and believed the Church when it taught that it is indefectible, you define your religious identity not by correct doctrine (Orthodox) and not by personal opinions (Protestants), but by belonging to the plain ol' Roman Catholic Church. Period. And then you take it from there. Within the Church.

If you are trying to be Catholic by defining your religious identity according to the correctness of your beliefs and the way you worship, instead of simply belonging to the plain ol' Roman Catholic Church, then you may have a difficult reevaluation before you.

Be Catholic. Listen to the Church. If you don't understand something, or something seems wrong, put it on hold. Then try to do your best with everything else until it's clarified in some fashion. That doesn't sound like the best option to you? There is one option we know is wrong. Leaving the Roman Catholic Church in any way, shape or form. The Bear would include in "leaving" developing a "schismatic mind-set:" recognizing any other body as the chief spiritual authority of God's Church on matters of doctrine and liturgy.

Above all, recognize that obedience and humility are precious virtues. Pride has a habit of lurking in the best of intentions. This isn't a contest over who's "more correct," or preserves the "pure Church" of some particular period in the past. It's not about winning an argument. Even if you conclude something is bad, it is still your choice to "bad-stay," and not "bad-leave."


  1. To quote Ed Peters from Facebook: "We are only doing what our fathers did in their day, what their fathers did before them, and what theirs did before them, namely, living in desperate times, doing the best we can."

    1. That's about right. The Barque of Peter is really a battleship. Maybe we're shoveling coal into the boilers. There seem to be a lot of people acting like the captain, though ;-)

  2. Well said...bookmarking this for further reflection...appreciate your consistent efforts at maintaining a safety- rope to discourage falling off the barque of Peter

  3. I would love to see you comment, in addition, on Blessed Cardinal Newman's statement that "I came to the conclusion that there is no medium, in true philosophy, between Atheism and Catholicity, and that a perfectly consistent mind, under those circumstances in which it finds itself here below, must embrace either the one or the other" (Apologia Pro Vita Sua).

    For me, the Orthodox and Protestant choices hold no appeal. (I converted to the Catholic Church from an Evangelical body, and felt that I lost nothing but added the Sacraments and the Church - an infinite gain.). But I do fear that I may fall into Atheism, which would have been unthinkable three years ago.

    1. I have found it helpful to remember that a perfectly consistent atheist is also necessarily a nihilist. Much like any attempt to be Christian without being Catholic is incoherent at a fairly fundamental level, so is any attempt to be atheist and avoid nihilism, or at least solipsism.

      I'm strictly amateur in the philosophy department, but an awful lot of the worthwhile stuff seems to boil down at the axiomatic level to Puddleglum's option. There are things which, if they're not true, render the discussion pointless. Things like, say, the existence of the external world or causation or the existence of things other than matter or moral obligations (even if only to honesty in a philosophical debate) or, though it might take some folks a bit of digging to see it, God.

      On few occasions I have briefly contemplated atheism, the sight of the yawning void devouring all and leaving only despair and oblivion has more than sufficed to save me from any significant temptation. In many ways I find myself admiring men who can hold such a philosophy and yet have the strength of will to put up with the, as our host says, massive cognitive dissonance required to still maintain some belief in goodness or truth, or even just the reality of the external world.

      Ironically enough, the tempting thing of atheism, to me, at least, is the temptation of surrender. The temptation to just lay down and die, like a tired soldier who can't take one more step or give one more thrust, whose shield begins to from nerveless fingers. Fatigue, not real assent of belief, is what tempts me to it.

      In a strange way, I find that rather encouraging that the temptations, admittedly all very light so far, which I have had to atheism are of the same sort as the temptations to return to protest and schism. The fact that both of these are in the same direction from me confirms me in my conversion.

  4. In addition to the excellent comment by Hrodgar, I would observe the following.

    Temptations are a clue, in a way. They have all the earmarks of a very cunning intelligence behind them, perverting or very best. Yes, the fact that Jesus is really present during communion is ask well and good, but the important thing is the physical manner you take communion! And never mind even trying to discuss that! It would be just like Satan to distract us from our supreme moment. There is also a subjective feeling of encounter with the temper, sometimes. Sometimes ask yourself, if there were a temper, might it very well go like this?

    Also, our side is not the only one with difficulties. The other side is terrified of the Big Bang. They are having to literally make up nonsense like the Multiverse, and String Theory to get away from it. They are desperate to find Earth like planets, so once a year they invent one and make a big splash in the press. Then there is "the hard problem of consciousness." They can't solve it, and don't know how are brains really work. How, for example, do thoughts -- non-material, after all -- actually change the physical structures of our brains ("plasticity")? Even poor old Darwin, whom they promote feverishly as their literal deity, is a dead duck. Problems like the fossil record and new areas of research like epigenetics have doomed him, but his worshippers are as fanatic as your average ISIS adherent.

    Couple the problems with the other side that nobody talks about much with the "converging and convincing arguments" (CCC) and atheism isn't a very compelling argument.

    I find atheism is more of a fear that this is not true than a conclusion. Like the lady in the Brothers Karamazov who was obsessed with the fear that this life is all there is, and afterwards "nothing but burdock on the grave."

    Ironically, if the Church is not indefectible, as the vocal minority is always suggesting, atheism becomes much more likely. If we can't trust the Church, we can't trust it about anything. Not the Canon of Scripture, not the mechanism for having our sins forgiven, not its witness to Christ, nothing. There is no safe harbor. Not Orthodoxy (which was part of the Church for a millenium) and certainly not Protestantism.

    I used too be troubled terribly by such temptations. Living into nearly my 60s has resolved much somehow.

    1. Exactly. If the Church is not indefectible, atheism is the remaining option. As with Our Lord: "aut Deus aut malus homo". Atheism makes no sense, but neither does a Catholic Church that could formally deny Christ's teaching. Which, of course, hasn't happened yet, and I still hope will not.

  5. Good points.

    And the Rock Jesus refers to are ALL the Popes since Peter, not just the current one, pronouncing current ideas for current times. Popes have authority only insofar as they are in communion with Christ first, and also each other. Past Popes are not gone and forgotten. They remain as a living heritage, of our living Church, in communion with each other past, present and future.

    We as Catholics have a duty to live within the entire edifice of the Catholic Church and not just the Church of the moment. That is the measuring stick and the beauty of our Catholic Faith.

    1. Actually, the Church of today is the Church, much as my wife of today is my wife, or the government of today is my government. They are all the sum of their history. We must obey the laws of today or pay the penalty (and since they are human laws, they may not always be the best); we must love and honor our spouse of today, and not long for the person they were twenty years ago; and today we have the Church we have, with full authority to give us our liturgies, for example. No one can possibly keep track of every development from every pope or council, nor would that make any sense. It is all inherent in the Church we have today.

    2. Exactly. You may be surprised how much we agree on this, though our perspectives may differ. Again, I read your blog because I value your perspective and your strong pursuit of faithful adherence to Truth.

      The Spouse of Christ is the same "wife" (Spouse) today, yesterday and tomorrow. One Bride. Not a new one for every age. And it is the responsibility of the Groom to ensure the Bride remans faithful and does not change in Her Purity and essence and adherence to Truth. He does, in fact, guarantee it it against Lucifer himself.

      We are all cells in a living Body, including the Pope (a mere cell in the Mystical Bride), that encompasses the "dead", and those yet to be born, every bit as much as those alive on earth. Unchanging Truth. One. Holy. Catholic. Apostolic. Church


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