Peter or Peter's Confession
Sheldon Vanauken presents his case clearly for recognizing the Catholic Church as the Church (“Choosing a Church,” April 1993). Though I have great respect for the Roman Catholic Church, having studied at a Catholic university, I am a retired Baptist minister. Vanauken quotes from Matthew 16:18: “‘You are Peter, the Rock; and on this rock I will build my church….” With Jesus’ delightful play on words, Petros and petra in the Greek New Testament, it seems obvious that Christ is referring to Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It is on the rock of that confession that the first Christian church was established in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. Using Vanauken’s terminology, we are all sects of that church, but I prefer to look upon us as living branches.
Earl H. Byleen
Maryknoll School of Theology
I write to protest the publication of Sheldon Vanauken’s “Choosing a Church” (April 1993). This article proclaims the Roman Catholic Church as the only true church and consigns all other Christians to second-class citizenship in God’s Kingdom. It accomplishes no worthy purpose, and its offensive smugness and silly arrogance are destructive of Christian brotherhood. Between its lines I hear something like the self-satisfied murmur of the Pharisee in Luke: “God, I thank thee that I am not like other men…Lutherans, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists.”
Even worse, Vanauken’s article is simply irrelevant. The key question is about faith, not denomination: Did or did not Jesus rise again to save us from our sins? The answer has little to do with which Christian tradition one feels most comfortable in adopting as the expression of one’s faith.
In its ads the NOR offers itself as a forum for the discussion of ideas that matter. Nothing is said about its being a platform for Roman Catholic triumphalism. If I have been misled about your magazine’s purpose, please let me know now, so I can cancel my subscription in time to avoid another such distasteful surprise.
Irvington, New York
Not Catholic Enough
I don’t usually write to editors, as it seems a futile gesture when something more concrete needs to be done. However, I have endured the cloying, stultifying, perverse, or naïve tone of some of your writers long enough.
When Planned Parenthood is wreaking moral and physical havoc throughout the world and the U.S. is turning into a Third World country, you choose to analyze the methods and motives of Anna Freud, as if she were some sort of seminal thinker (April 1993).
If you make minute observations on the thought of learned liberals (certainly a contradiction in terms), why not a balanced, direct summation of the obvious truths and answers coming forth from the Vatican? Are you Catholics or are you a sect or go-between among sects? There is quite enough trite feminist and other drivel emanating from the media without its being purveyed from a Catholic (?) magazine. Your place of publication gives you away.
Cancel my subscription.
John T. Sinnot
Sheldon Vanauken’s “Choosing a Church” (April 1993) is a drive down the highway of Christian history and theology at excessive speed. At such speeds, a lot of important details are missed. I’ll mention only two.
In the “Protestant Revolt,” Vanauken writes, Luther and others “left the Church.” But Luther, an Augustinian monk, saw himself as a reformer within the one church. He was excommunicated from the Catholic Church; he did not choose to leave it. Secondly, the article claims that the distinction between the visible and the invisible church is a Protestant invention created to justify schism. Actually, St. Augustine, in the context of an earlier schism, began to reflect on the visible and invisible limits of the one church. This is not a Protestant notion.
The Rev. Timothy D. Lincoln
Maryknoll, New York
As in his books, Sheldon Vanauken writes in your April 1993 issue (“Choosing a Church”) with passion and purpose. I am again moved to love and appreciate the Roman Catholic ethos, but am not motivated to join (yet). I agree with Vanauken about what it means to be a Roman Catholic — which is, regretfully, why I cannot join. To be a Roman Catholic is to embrace the Roman Catholic faith in its entirety. It is a seamless robe. Given this, theologians such as Matthew Fox, Hans Küng, and Rosemary Ruether, while offering some valuable insights, should hesitate to call themselves Roman Catholic.
Sheldon Vanauken’s “Choosing a Church” (April 1993) was enlightening. I, a Protestant, always seem to be too busy, but I really must go and speak to a priest of the Catholic Church — just blocks from where I live. Really, we should all be together with the Pope, telling the Good News and helping the poor. Shouldn’t we?
The Wrong Reason
I was saddened to read Sheldon Vanauken’s “Choosing a Church” (April 1993). The many divisions in the body of Christ should be cause for shame and humility, not pompous gloating and smug triumphalism.
A man of Vanauken’s talents ought to be able to develop a more appropriate response to Vatican II’s exhortation that we take an active and intelligent part in the cause of Church unity (Decree on Ecumenism). Has it escaped his notice that the Council fathers applied the term “Church” to the separated communities which Vanauken denigratingly and pointedly calls “sects”? The first step recommended to us by the Council is that we avoid expressions that make mutual relations more difficult. However, Vanauken insists on using an offensive expression.
The entire tone of the article demonstrates rates that Vanauken may also need to review the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, in which the Council fathers teach us that the community founded by Christ subsists in the Roman Catholic Communion — deliberately a less strong claim of identification between the universal Church and the Roman Catholic Church than made by Vanauken.
If one is attracted to the Catholic Church, it should be because we exemplify the love of the Father made incarnate in Jesus Christ, because of our Eucharist, our commitment to justice and human rights, our ministry to those forgotten or ignored by society, our reverence for human life and dignity, our respect for conscience, and most of all because of our sacramental vision of reality by which we see the hand of God in all creation. But Vanauken asks people to choose the Catholic Church for the wrong reason.
R. Raymond Lang
New Orleans, Louisiana
Ed Note: Vanauken was using, as he indicated, a dictionary definition of “sect.” Such usage can be heard in common parlance, from street corner to newscast. You are right that “sect,” not a term favored by the Decree on Ecumenism, can be offensive, but Vanauken explicitly said he was using the term in a restricted sense and “not to give offense.” Indeed, he recently wrote elsewhere that the differences between Catholicism and historic Protestantism are “slight” compared to their common differences with modernism, relativism, secularism, and materialism. As for “subsists in,” the official Vatican relatio (explanation) given in the Holy See’s Acta says: “The Church [of Christ] is one only, and here on earth is present in the Catholic Church, although outside her there are found ecclesial elements,” which is exactly what Vanauken was saying. The reasons you offer for becoming Catholic could be offered by a Lutheran for becoming Lutheran or an Anglican for becoming Anglican. The Decree on Ecumenism itself gives unique reasons for becoming Catholic — e.g., “Our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is head, in order to establish one Body of Christ on earth to which all should be, fully [not partially, as with Protestants] incorporated…,” which was the reason Vanauken offered for becoming Catholic.
Welcome to Come Home
Regarding Norman Lear’s “The Cathedral of Business” (April 1993): Lear seems to write of God in a flirtatious way. I hope he will enter into an abiding faith in God. If he does, I hope he will also realize that God’s teachings in the Bible are the bulwarks against paganism/barbarism.
New York, New York
No Prodigal Son
Hearing the thoughts of Norman Lear on the social/spiritual state of modern America (“The Cathedral of Business,” April 1993) has the same kind of fascinating appeal as would hearing from Slobodan Milosevic on the ethnic question in the Balkans. If there is a group that could be said to be particularly representative of, if not responsible for, the turn this country has taken with respect to the disappearance of spiritual awareness and the dissolution of community, one would have to place Lear in that group. But Lear is right about one thing: The barbarians are here, and they came from within. How thoughtful that they have supplied one of their number to explicate our condition.
The Casual Factor
Norman Lear aptly describes our present-day society (“The Cathedral of Business,” April 1993), but falls short of the causal explanation, which is also unfashionable. We live in a society that has lost sight of God, the natural law, and a true sense of freedom.
But Lear cuts to the truth as he describes a society that has lost its path, destroys its unborn, and ultimately will destroy itself.
It is not an argument against the idea of retribution to call it “primitive and pre-Christian,” as Mark W. Roche does in condemning capital punishment (“Inconsistencies in the Abortion Debate,” March 1993), for many primitive ideas which pre-dated Christianity have been wholeheartedly endorsed by it. The idea of desert, which is the basis for retribution, is one of them, as in the social doctrine that a worker deserves to share in wealth which he had a hand in producing. In the same way, a man who produces death deserves a share in being dead. Otherwise, what happens to the idea that a person can deserve anything?
Roche seems not to realize that an argument for capital punishment can be drawn from his very suggestion that a criminal who is actually endangering life at present may be killed in the defense of his intended victim. For if a merely would-be murderer may be killed to prevent his murdering, it is surely clear that, after the murder has been committed, the murderer ought now be dead. People who would kill to defend life, but not to punish the unjust taking of it, ought always to be asked whether they would kill the executioner — as a last resort — to save the life of a murderer properly convicted.
Port au Port East, Newfoundland
Our Turn to Be Tested
Tie two pieces in the March 1993 issue — the editorial on “Prolifers and the Reagan/Bush Tease” and Mark W. Roche’s “Inconsistencies in the Abortion Debate” — were of particular interest to me. My prolife friends wonder why I, a prolifer, am not a Republican. I, in turn, wonder why they are. My wonderment does not stem primarily from their willingness to agree with (or overlook) the pro-death policies of the Reagan and Bush administrations on war, nuclear weapons, the death penalty, and the like, or from their inability to recognize that the primacy of individual liberty that so dominates Republican thinking is also the philosophical underpinning of abortion rights. Rather, my amazement comes primarily from the fact they really think Reagan and Bush were on their side. As your editorial pointed out, that was not so. Moreover, Reagan and Bush basically just preserved the status quo by vetoing certain legislation that would have expanded abortion rights. But a status quo where more than 4,000 children are killed each day is not acceptable, and these Presidents did little or nothing to stop that killing.
Perhaps prolife Republicans are just ideological conservatives at heart and are therefore guilty of the inconsistencies of which Roche wrote. Roche, however, appeared to state that a consistent prolifer must support sex education, subsidized daycare, and universal health insurance. Although this may be true in theory, Roche should not consider all prolife opposition to such programs as signs of inconsistency. Instead, the opposition may be a consistent response to a particular program. For example, the consistent prolifer cannot support sex education that teaches about abortion in a positive or “morally neutral” manner. Likewise, a prolifer cannot support universal health care if it is going to fund abortions.
“Liberal” prolifers, like me, have in one sense had it easy the last 12 years. So long as we were on the outside, it was easy to criticize conservative Republicans for being inconsistent. But now it is our turn to be tested. We have a chance to see policies implemented we have long supported, such as health-care reform. But at what price? If we make the wrong choice or remain silent, we will be the ones called inconsistent.
Christopher T. Dodson
The heavy-handed title, “Examining a Manichaean Approach to Abortion,” of Mark P. Shea’s essay on John Medina’s The Outer Limits of Life (April 1993) is sensationalist and deceiving. First, Medina’s book is decidedly not about abortion. The term does not appear in the chapter Shea focused on, and no specific approach to this issue is even broached. Second, the term “Manichaean” is normally used of an anti-Christian position, one which refers Good to one God and Evil to another. On both charges Medina is innocent.
The review-essay uncharitably critiques Medina for not developing a full presentation of the sacramentality of creation — something Medina never set out to do! By a strange bit of alchemy, Shea transmutes Medina’s rather modest personal wrestlings with the boundary between human life and human tissues into a challenge to an evangelical view of the sanctity of life! On the contrary, the only challenge that Medina’s book issues is to concerned Christians who might not want to hitch their wagon to an anachronistic view of scientific knowledge. This is a good reason to read Medina and forget Shea.
The Rev. Gordon L. Isaac
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