Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: November 1992

November 1992

Trinket Theology

Michelle Bobier claims in her July-August article, “A Baptist Among the Episcopali­ans,” to be “nurtured by both faiths” (i.e., Calvinism plus Lutheranism as interpreted by U.S. Baptists; and Anglo-Ca­tholicism). Based on the rea­soning she presents in her ar­ticle, it is obvious that she is nurtured by neither faith, but by a rather curious (and possi­bly dangerous) one of her own. As an Anglo-Catholic, I found her article offensive.

Her reasoning continually reminded me of two of Kier­kegaard’s lesser human paths, the esthetic and Religion A. Throughout her article Bobier proclaims that the wonder of Anglo-Catholicism is its beauty, yet argues ineffectively that what draws her there is not just some ego-gratifying esthet­ic experience.

Trying to justify her pres­ence in an Anglo-Catholic church, she defends herself by writing that “at first I thought my attraction…might be purely sensuous,” and goes on to write, “it is more than that,” yet offers as the “more” the feelings generated by the Len­ten penitential order and an expanded “understanding of church music” and other sen­sate wonders.

Granted, she makes a nod to the Bible (appealing to it no doubt as an ultimate authority) and noting that it contains cer­emony. But for someone whose theology is supposedly so informed by a faith that proclaims obedience to biblical authority, perhaps she should review which church is the more obedient to Holy Scripture. Apparently she doesn’t like the answer, and avoids submitting to the theology and discipline of Anglo-Catholicism by holding it at arm’s length and admiring it only for its beauty. How insulting! My en­tire costly life of being obedient to the faith is nothing but a single facet of her pretty bauble.

Her sentence that she and her husband “bought a tiny censer and some church in­cense and use it” is perhaps the most nauseating. As a Baptist, she should know the passage of Leviticus that ap­plies here, that holy incense is just that, holy (separate), and not to be used in the home because it is for the ceremonies of the church (community). This confession alone indicates she is violating both her sup­posed faiths, and is instead embarked on the great tragedy of Western culture: an individ­ually constructed faith, submit­ting to no authority save her own conscience. This has sim­ply never been the teaching of the church and never will be, and bespeaks more of New Age pseudo-Christian heresies than the faith once and perfect­ly delivered.

She claims that what gave her the most satisfaction at Holy Communion was “the sense of community of it all,” yet she also writes that her baptism “held absolutely no meaning for me.” This position is absolutely loathsome. She has simultaneously offended both sacraments and pro­claimed her own interpretation of meaning as the supreme arbiter of authentic spiritual experience. Sorry, the church teaches that sacraments are only tertiarily for the individu­al; rather they are administered for the benefit of the whole church, visible and invisible, and not just for the single recipient. Whether her baptism held any meaning for her or not, it had meaning for the church; she was marked as Christ’s own forever at that moment. Whatever is loosed on earth is loosed in heaven, for that power has been given to the church.

But it is most important to take up the matter of her supposed “spiritual prepara­tion” before Communion, that again has so much “more” meaning for her and her alone. She would do well to follow ample warning in Scripture about spiritual preparation be­fore Mass, for she may consume her own destruction. Quite simply put, she should not participate in Holy Com­munion at that church unless she believes in the real pres­ence of our Lord in the sac­rament. If she believes other­wise, and one can reasonably conclude from her article that she does, she should not partake. If she does anyway, she is basically offending the religious practice she ostensibly so admires, saying in essence that she doesn’t believe in transubstantiation but that she does like how pretty it all is. How offensive, how vile! My God is consumed by unbeliev­ers because they want to feed their esthetic ego, and think it all so pretty.

Bobier’s current privilege of flirtation with Anglo-Cathol­icism was bought at a severe price, particularly by the blood of priests under her co-religionist Cromwell. Her claims that what she finds in Anglo-Catholicism is peace should be tempered by her reading her own Bible. Our Lord did not promise her a kind of esthetic peace, but an invisible spiritual one that perhaps may not come until we are in the next world with Him. She would do well to re-examine her reasons for being in either church, and at the very least submit to one hermeneutic of authority or the other. Otherwise, she is merely tossing herself to and fro, a clanging gong in an empty wind.

James N. Ward

Institute of Religious Education & Pastoral Ministry, Boston College

Washington, D.C.

Truth, Not Music

Michelle Bobier and I have a lot in common (see her “A Baptist Among the Episcopali­ans,” Jul.-Aug.). Like Bobier, I met the Lord through an evangelical Protestant church, but found the high Episcopal Church irresistible.

I would not have bothered to write this letter, however, if Bobier had not concluded her article with, “This is not to say that I am flirting with another conversion here.” How I smiled at the familiarity of that statement. Many times I had thought the same thing as I sat smugly in my incense-scented pew, savoring the sweet aftertaste of Communion wine, knowing that my “Roman” brethren down the street were being tortured at that very moment by a “leader of song” or a second-rate homily deliv­ered by an obviously bored priest. Ah, yes, I wasn’t in any danger of another conversion either. I had “too many fun­damental disagreements” with Roman Catholic theology. The fact that I knew almost nothing about it didn’t matter at all.

What struck me most about Bobier’s article is her in­difference to the fact that the two traditions she compares and contrasts reflect not differ­ent tastes and sensibilities but very real theological differ­ences, often in direct opposi­tion to each other. She feels perfectly free as a Baptist to receive Communion in an An­glo-Catholic church, which, be­sides being disrespectful, indi­cates that she doesn’t quite have a handle on certain as­pects of Anglo-Catholic theolo­gy, probably the same ones she rejects. Is she aware, I wonder, that the priest distrib­uting the Host actually means “The Body of Christ”? Why doesn’t she think it matters? She does not understand that in the Catholic Church “Com­munion” is with God, not with fellow parishioners as she supposes. Bobier assumes that she is in unity with an Anglo­-Catholic congregation, when in fact she is not. Being in the same place at the same time is not what the Church means by unity.

If Christ really meant, “This is my Body,” then Bobier will have to reconsider her be­lief that two traditions coexist in her heart and mind. Catho­lics (Anglo and Roman) take the Lord’s statement literally, Protestants do not. The two beliefs cannot be reconciled, and therefore the traditions that spring from them cannot coexist. One must lose to the other eventually.

A wide gulf separates Protestantism from Catholicism and it can be crossed only by conversion, the one thing Bobier assures us she is not about to undergo yet again. Study, prayer, and heroic self-examination are the keys to conversion. Bobier owes it to the Episcopal Church to study not only what Anglo-Catholi­cism really teaches, but why. Prayer will protect and enlight­en her; self-examination (ouch! it can be painful!) brings humility and the desire for still more study and prayer. Bobier probably doesn’t know that Anglo-Catholicism and Roman Catholicism teach that conver­sion should take place each day of her life: Sounds daunt­ing, but that’s what grace is all about.

I write “from Rome” as a convert who shares many things with Bobier. I miss the Episcopalian liturgy, the sense of style, the music. Oh, how I miss the music! But St. Thom­as More and St. Edmund Campion and their fellow En­glish Catholic martyrs died de­fending eternal truth, not music.

Bobier writes beautifully and from the heart. I will pray that her “disagreements” with Anglo (and no doubt Roman) Catholicism will be replaced by understanding of same, and that she will be in great dan­ger, indeed, of “abandoning the faith of Calvin and Lu­ther,” who, it might be noted, did some abandoning themselves.

Edwina J. Conason

Madonna House

Mount Kisco, New York

Not the Gospel According To Hallmark

The personality of Christ presents us with a paradox that we must accept fully. That is, we must accept both sides. Borrowing from Blake, I call them the Tiger aspect and the Lamb aspect. Granted, the Lamb aspect of Christ has been overplayed, while the Tiger aspect has been ignored or forgotten.

Mark P. Shea’s article, “The Redemption of Rebellion” (Jul.-Aug.), made a number of great points, but one wasn’t so great: “Unlike the ‘gentle Jesus meek and mild’ of greeting card fame, the real Jesus was…. [an] unmild…. unman­nerly…. Rebel.” Yes, by mod­ern standards, He was quite a troublemaker. But His gentle­ness, meekness, and mildness are not concoctions of Hall­mark Inc.; they come from Scripture. He is described thus by the Old Testament proph­ets, and from His own mouth (“For I am meek and humble of heart”). Unless we’re going to say Scripture is doublespeak and Christ is a hypocrite, we have to accept that the one perfect (male) Personality we know of was both sides of the paradox: gentle, meek, and humble, and a firmly principled rebel against the system, a “boil on the neck of the…pow­er broker,” as Shea says.

Do we think being gentle and humble of heart means letting evil triumph, allowing oneself to be taken advantage of, refusing to act because someone might get offended? If so, we should re-examine what it really means to be meek and humble of heart — using Christ as our example. Not only the proud and self-serving show their anger and challenge the system.

L.A. Carstens

Paris, France

Matthew, Mark, Charles, & Neil

A book review written by Charles A. Coulombe (Sept.) says that fragments of the Gospel of Matthew were dis­covered in Cave 7 at Qumran. But I have read elsewhere that is the Gospel of Mark.

Neil Kaufler

Madison, Wisconsin


Mea maxima culpa.

The Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, Director

Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts

Unsophisticated Theology

Your editorial “The Church as a Warm Fuzzy?” (Jul.-Aug.) begins with a large-spir­ited acknowledgment of the many fine features of Margaret O’Brien Steinfels’s speech, “The Unholy Alliance Between the Right and the Left in the Catholic Church.” And the ed­itorial ends with the irenic rec­ognition that there is a lot of “authentic Catholicism” on both the Catholic “Left” and the Catholic “Right.” But, in between, I fear that your legit­imate and single-minded concern for the “truth” of Catholic Christianity led you on a detour that was both mislead­ing and a missed opportunity.

It was misleading because it suggested that, in her speech, Steinfels was not con­cerned with the issue of truth; that Catholicism, in her con­strual, was merely a “sensi­bility” and not a “doctrine.” Now, I grant that her speech did not have as its explicit fo­cus the issue of Catholic truth or, in a phrase from your editorial, “the basis for [Catholic] unity.” Still, there are clear indications in her speech of her likely response. She speaks, for example, of testi­mony to “the Lordship of Jesus in word and sacrament.” She worries that a new generation of Catholics seems only dimly acquainted “with the doctrine of the Trinity.” She laments the sectarian and utilitarian deformation of the Eucharistic celebration. She waxes ironic regarding those seeking “cre­ative ways to remain Catholic but not Roman.” A consistently large-spirited reading of her speech would recognize here some of those non-negotiables of Catholic unity, and truth-claims which, I dare say, you also espouse.

Astonishingly, your (to my mind, correct) critical assess­ment of Andrew Greeley’s “communal Catholicism” im­pels you carelessly to associate Henri de Lubac’s splendid statement of faith (cited ap­provingly by Steinfels) with Greeley’s flimflam. De Lubac’s (and Steinfels’s) point is that persons possessed of the desire to be fully Christian will fall in love with the Church’s beauty, will root themselves in her soil, finding in her their true spiritual home, because they joyfully recognize that only in her do they participate in “the unshakeableness of God.” This is not a question of sensibility, but of the very substance of things hoped for. Have we not here the very point your edito­rial stresses: “The institution is indispensable. But it is not an end in itself”? Only that de Lubac’s incomparable prose provides the theological ration­ale for the claim.

The editorial also repre­sents a missed opportunity, because it is clear that your concern to specify “what it means to be authentically Catholic” is, despite your impression to the contrary, not at all foreign to Steinfels’s con­cerns. In her speech she rec­ognizes the need for theologi­cal boundaries and theologians’ responsibilities in this regard; she raises the often deemed too-delicate-to-handle question of what constitutes a “Cath­olic” college or university; finally, she endorses the need to bring the “resources of the Catholic tradition” to bear upon the pressing spiritual and moral exigencies of the pre­sent. From this ground of common concern a critical and helpful dialogue might have been engaged by the editorial. Indeed, I think nothing is theologically and pastorally more challenging and urgent today than articulating criteria of Catholic identity in the “postmodern” world. However, instead of grappling with the issue of Catholic identity in a theologically sophisticated way, your editorial seemed content to retreat to a rather reduction­istic and undifferentiated appeal to papal authority.

David F. Addleton

Atlanta, Georgia

Psychologism & Evangelical Decline

The Rev. Robert Wild

Combermere, Ontario, Canada

Furfey's Influence

The Madonna House community was extremely pleased by Gordon Zahn’s article paying tribute to the life of Fr. Paul Hanly Furfey (Sept.). Fr. Furfey was not only a great Catholic sociologist, we can testify that he was also a great spiritual director and guide. We have in our posses­sion invaluable correspondence between Fr. Furfey and Cather­ine de Hueck Doherty, our foundress. She had been in­spired by his Fire on the Earth, and asked him to be her spir­itual director. He was so dur­ing some of the most personal­ly crucial years of her life, about 1938 to 1947. Catherine had a profound life with Christ, and to have guided her is another tribute to Furfey’s stature. He was also a gospel inspiration in forming some of her loving vision for the ghet­tos of the world. Madonna House owes him a very per­sonal debt of gratitude for the profound and lasting formative influence he exercised in Cath­erine’s life. Sad, isn’t it, that great people can die and re­ceive so little recognition! Here, again, he is identified with his Master and the poor he loved so much. Fr. Furfey was a very great man. He will figure prominently in any history of Catholic social ought in the U.S., and will have a very prominent place in any future biography of Catherine.

Kevin M. Doyle

Birmingham, Alabama

Not Fudging

Even with all its question-begging, your editorial reply (Sept.) to my letter (Sept.) de­fending Margaret Steinfels’s “Unholy Alliance” speech was amusing. One point troubled me, however. I asked whether I have to choose “between ef­fective family planning and the Real Presence.” You, without warrant, raised the possibility that I was fudging on eucharis­tic doctrine. I was referring, however, to actually receiving Christ’s Body and Blood at Mass. I accept Transubstantia­tion’s how as well as the Real Presence’s what.

Ronald E. Wilson

Earlysville, Virginia


In his September article, John Warwick Montgomery made some useful observations in suggesting that Evangelical­ism is “regressing rather than going forward.” But his in­dictment of Christianity Today as an example of that regres­sion is both elitist and unfair. CT deliberately (in the view of this casual reader) moved from a journal of ideas for intellec­tuals to a more reportorial type of magazine for a broader audience. But to call this a “descent,” as Montgomery does, implies that intellectual is better, that those gifted and educated to grapple with complex ideas are on a higher plane than those who aren’t.

Ed. Note:

What CT does it does very well. But there are other evangelical magazines doing the same thing. It is widely acknowl­edged that there are now no first-rate evangelical magazines of ideas — because some died, some veered off in a liberal Protestant direc­tion, and CT went after “a broad­er audience,” as you put it. Montgomery isn’t against reporto­rial types of magazines or the peo­ple who like them, he’s against abdication in the contest of ideas.

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