Letters to the Editor: April 2019
Letter to a Friend on Church Division
Your Protestant friend Dave here. I read your letter to Thomas (“Letter to a Friend on Church Scandal,” Jan.-Feb.) and I commend you for what, in the beginning, was good counsel. We are to expect scandals, you write, and you cite Judas Iscariot and a Corinthian believer living in an incestuous relationship as two of many biblical examples. A more recent example you give is Jimmy Swaggart. I attended one of his crusades, and I remember vividly the pain following his very public scandal.
Your advice to Thomas weakens at this point. You fill a few paragraphs with examples of renewal in the Catholic Church. But Protestantism is experiencing renewal as well. Surely you would agree that renewal itself is not proof that God is at work in an institution. Perhaps the difference is in the subject of renewal. On the one hand, the unified Catholic Church is being renewed; on the other, fragmented Protestant churches are being renewed. How can we possibly say that God is renewing such a mess?
There are, you write, “40,000 Protestant sects, all of them at odds over what Scripture teaches.” Several years ago, I read in an essay by Robert Fastiggi in the book Not by Scripture Alone that the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura is responsible for “over 28,000 distinct Christian denominations.” I am not sure which number is closer to the truth, but I admit that I was once troubled by what you call the “scandal of disunity.” One book in particular, Bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet’s History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches, almost had me crossing the Tiber. But by the accidental reach of my hand in a used-book store, providence directed me to The Variations of Popery by Samuel Edgar, and I remained on the Protestant side of the Tiber, reading about the history of the Roman Church, of pope against pope, council against council, and encyclical against encyclical — over 600 pages of similar scandal.
So we have two confessions and two scandals: the scandal of division and the scandal of sexual abuse. And what is your advice to Thomas? Simply this: Do not pick Door No. 1. Protestantism can never find a solution to division. Is it not the fault of sola scriptura that we have so many divisions? Every Protestant, so you say, is his own pope, his own “arbiter of what is right and wrong,” resulting in what Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid once called a theological bickerfest. However, Fred, I’m sure you’re aware that many Catholic apologists, as well as we Protestants, make a distinction between solo scriptura and sola scriptura and admit that the former is the real cause of most divisions. Protestants who confess sola scriptura give regard to tradition, the orthodox Fathers, and the creeds. They believe it is important to “follow in the footsteps of the flock” (Canticles 1:8). And while there might be disagreement over nonessentials, there is, among the people of God, unity in the essentials of faith — a statement that may be verified by examining The Harmony of Protestant Confessions, first published in 1581.
What Protestants, at least those of the Reformed tradition, mean by sola scriptura is that Scripture alone is a perfect rule for faith and life, depending for its authority on God alone. The problem with that approach, you tell Thomas, is that “the Bible doesn’t interpret itself.” The solution, you say, is the papal system, in which Peter and his successors are gifted with the keys to the Kingdom and the special protection of the Holy Spirit when speaking ex cathedra on faith and morals. Protestants marvel at this. The question of whether there is in God’s church such an infallible person has been the single greatest cause of division; it was an occasion of faction even in the first centuries. Some Fathers, including Origen, Hilary, and Cyril, said the word rock in Matthew 16:18 refers to Peter; others, including Ambrose and Jerome, said the rock is Christ; and others yet (by far the greatest number; one writer listed 44 Fathers of this opinion) said the rock is Peter’s confession that Christ is the Son of God. The proposition that “the bishop of Rome is infallible” is not evident in itself, and it always is, wherever and by whomever it is held, the result of private judgment and interpretation.
What good would an infallible person do anyway? Protestant apologist William Chillingworth asked what good an infallible speaker is without an infallible hearer. Supposed infallible interpretations of Scripture also need to be interpreted. “Neither is that an interpretation,” Chillingworth said, “which needs again to be interpreted.” Scripture, he said, “is very fit to end all controversies necessary to be ended. For others that are not so, they will end when the world ends, and that is time enough.”
Warners, New York
FREDERICK W. MARKS REPLIES:
Belief in papal infallibility does not depend on the word rock. Far more important is the fact that Peter, alone among the Apostles, is recorded as having received two striking marks of authority. First, he was given the “keys to the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 16:19). Second, our Lord commissioned him to “feed” His “sheep” (Jn. 21:17). A comparison of Matthew 16:18-19 with similar language in Isaiah 22:22 yields further evidence, not only of Christ’s intent to empower Peter but of the timeless nature of the Petrine office. Just as Eliakim was expected to have successors, so, too, in the case of Peter.
Speaking of the Old Testament, there is something else worth noting. The papacy is simply a carryover of the divinely ordained office of high priest, the occupant of which, ever since the time of Aaron, had the last word on spiritual matters and wielded life-and-death power over heretics.
To your second point, Mr. Landon, the teachings of popes and councils may appear contradictory, but many so-called contradictions involve practices such as slavery and usury that have changed with changing times. If we compare Old Testament slavery with that which existed in the South at the time of Lincoln, or if we contrast first-century money lending with today’s borrowing at your local bank, the difference is huge. Reams of anti-Catholic criticism have crossed my desk since the 1950s, and not once have I come across an allegation of papal or conciliar contradiction that rises above the level of casuistry.
For years, a prime example of papal contradiction cited by anti-Catholic critics was the stand taken by Pope Honorius (625-638) on monothelitism (a heresy holding that Christ did not have a human will distinct from that of the Father). Honorius erred in refusing to denounce monothelitism, but he never approved it outright. After his death, he was rebuked by a Church council for propagating error. But because the council itself was self-appointed (not called by a reigning pope), it was illicit. Honorius was also condemned by his successor in the chair of Peter, but for ambiguity, not heresy. Papal ambivalence can have a devastating effect on the faithful, but it is not tantamount to false teaching.
Over the past 2,000 years, Rome has not changed its position on the Trinity or admission of women to the priesthood. The same goes for cohabitation, birth control, and abortion, not to mention divorce and sodomy. Such rock-like fidelity to the deposit of faith is nothing short of miraculous given the enormous pressure brought to bear over the years by dictators, radical feminists, and sex perverts. Here, as elsewhere, the Church remains squarely in line with Scripture: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).
During the fourth and fifth centuries, the bishop of Rome stood practically alone as a champion of belief in the divinity of Christ, going against all the bishops of the East, as well as most in the West. In 1968, when Pope St. Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae, an encyclical reaffirming the Church’s stance on the sinfulness of artificial contraception, he squared off against most of the Christian world. What’s more, all his predictions about what would happen if the marital act came to be regarded as a form of recreational activity have proven true.
Finally, to your point about Protestant respect for ancient creeds, traditions, and patristic writings: This is all to the good. But such respect does not seem to be particularly widespread among our separated brethren, and how are non-Catholics to know which interpretation of classical sources to credit? All of which brings us back to the need for authority if we are to avoid the sectarianism condemned by St. Paul (cf. 1 Cor. 1:10).
St. Luke tells us that the early Church was “of one mind” (Acts 4:32), and I put it to you, Mr. Landon, that nowhere is this unity more clearly present than in Catholicism.
So come on home! Cross the Tiber without delay. “The acceptable time” is now (2 Cor. 6:2), and God’s grace, always on tap for those earnestly seeking the truth, will be yours in abundance.
The Great Diabolical Trap
It was delightful and enriching to read Peter Dornay’s letter (“Super Natural Family Planning,” Jan.-Feb.). He cut through the great growing crescendo of evasive, culture-accommodating “discernment” palaver that we have endured, especially over the past 50 years. What he did not say is that the “open to life” marriage he speaks of from experience takes effort, struggle, and sacrifice. The happiness and joy he and his wife have experienced in this world are merely signs of their eternal reward.
The great diabolical trap of our time is the rejection of the value of suffering and the trials and tribulations of the ordinary life that God wishes us to live with fidelity, especially in the transmission of life. It is an apostasy of the profoundest sort from the Christian religion. Recall St. Paul’s admonition: “I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the Church” (Col. 1:24).
For many years I have studied demographic trends, and I anticipate several astonishing calamities based on one distilled fact: Mankind, taken in its entirety, has rejected life to such a degree that it has committed itself to a previously unimaginable, and now unavoidable, collapse with seemingly apocalyptic consequences. Abortions by Planned Parenthood aren’t the sole indicator of reproductive evils. Consider chemical abortions, IUDs, contraceptive devices, and other reproductive abuses, including extended, unjustifiable use of periodic continence. The number of persons rejected by these measures is enormous.
Starting in the mid-21st century, a great collapse of the world population will begin as the superannuated population, supported by the limits of modern medicine, will start its inevitable denouement. By 2100 it seems certain that the world will have gone from about eight billion persons to as little as four billion, and it will still be in a state of gross collapse, with fewer and fewer girls and women in the childbearing years of 14 to 44.
Against this impending population implosion, it seems to me that those who accompany Mr. Dornay in practicing Super Natural Family Planning have one guiding principle: generosity as the proper response to God who brought about our individual existence. Pope St. John Paul II often used the word responsible. We will be held responsible for having the children God wants us to have — our salvation may depend on it.
Bernard M. Collins
Silver Spring, Maryland
Minimizing the Incarnation
In James V. Schall’s discussion of the issue of revelation and reason among French theologians (“Are Revelation & Modernity Compatible?” Jan.-Feb.), I noticed a glaring omission: the Incarnation. Fr. Schall devotes all of one sentence to it.
The very reason for the existence of the Church is the Incarnation. The Christian proposition to the modern world is the historical reality that Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose; is the Son of God; and is Himself God’s most profound revelation to the world. This is what keeps Christianity grounded and prevents it from becoming just another philosophical system.
In our struggles with modernity, this basic truth seems too often minimized or forgotten. The Church’s alleged dilemma of either reverting to past Scholastic models or accommodating the modern sense of reason is false. The Church presents herself to the modern world most authentically by asserting the reality of Christ. That is how I read Gaudium et Spes, Vatican II’s “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.”
Only by asserting the “good news” of the Incarnation — the Church’s greatest tool in dealing with the modern world — will all the theological analyses come into proper focus.
Grand Blanc, Michigan
FR. JAMES V. SCHALL REPLIES:
It is difficult to judge something by what it does not have. The last thing I would think of minimizing is the Incarnation. It is our concrete link between God and man. If Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, is not incarnate, then the Resurrection cannot happen, and we are not redeemed.
Rest assured that I did not intend to lessen the importance of the Incarnation. I did not say much about the role of Mary either, and she is also central to the Incarnation. The Word was with God. The Word was God, the Son of God the Father. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.
Another Explanation for the Rise of SJWs
I thoroughly enjoyed Jason M. Morgan’s review of Michael Rectenwald’s book Springtime for Snowflakes: “Social Justice” and Its Postmodern Parentage (Jan.-Feb.). For the modern observer, however, there are notations from the past 50 years apart from Cartesio-Hobbesianism that can explain the rise of “social justice warriors” on college campuses.
The beginning came when pursuit of a degree in education was offered as a way to avoid being drafted to serve in the Vietnam War. At the time, college was still expensive, and few left home to experience campus life. With the help of government assistance, college education became a reality for many. As attendance grew, and not everyone wanted to become a doctor or an engineer, colleges began offering more and more degree categories. (Today, some colleges offer 125 different majors.)
Soon colleges came to be managed like movie houses — just fill the seats — and legions of graduates found themselves strapped with student debt and discovered they couldn’t get a job in their field of study. Coinciding with the Obama years, left-leaning professors taught them that you are a victim, and the development of SJWs began in earnest. Today, anyone not preaching the leftist line is to be humiliated and bothered, and this is perceived as the correct thing to do because SJWs believe they must “resist!” anything to the contrary.
It will take a long time to fix this problem, perhaps three or four generations, but like the sands of time, this will pass because the truth always wins in the end.
Douglas D. Doyen
Basking Ridge, New Jersey
JASON M. MORGAN REPLIES:
Douglas D. Doyen points out a central factor in the rise of SJWs: the greed of college administrators. Indeed, Russell Kirk was troubled by this long ago, taunting his onetime boss, John Hannah, president of Michigan State University, for turning an institution of higher learning into a diploma mill excelling only at separating the foolish masses from their money.
Kirk was fond of calling Hannah a “chickenologist,” as Hannah had a degree in poultry science. But the epithet is more than ornamental. Administrators really do see colleges and universities as gigantic Quonset huts to be crammed with warm bodies in order to maximize output of, well, whatever it is that chickens are famous for producing.
There is thus an overriding Fordism that channels the Cartesio-Hobbesianism on campuses today. Recruit masses of green youth, fresh off the public-school brainwashing assembly line, and gather them in ranks and rows of surly, callow freshmen. Sprinkle in a little highfalutin jargon and — presto! — you’ve got yourself a perpetually angry mob. Whether you’re a chicken farmer or a political activist, it all works out the same. All you need are big crowds and low standards, and you’re in business.
I agree with Mr. Doyen that truth will win in the end. Truth has already won. But the Augean task of scooping out the chicken-house is, as Mr. Doyen points out, unpleasant work. May God send us many more Michael Rectenwalds!
Defaulting to Intolerance
Ronald J. Rychlak does Catholics another public service by providing an astute summary of Islamic persecution of Christians throughout the ages (“Nazarenes under the Scimitar,” Jan.-Feb.). While much of history is the story of war and conquest, the length and breadth of Islamic oppression is still stunning.
All religions have had their fanatics, but the story of injustice committed by Christians is the story of those who have violated the core tenets of their faith. Regrettably, as Rychlak details, devout Muslims who persecute Christians and Jews, as well as others, can be seen in the eyes of Muhammad’s followers as practicing their faith. That’s not a small difference.
The few times in Islamic history when Muslims have exercised some degree of tolerance toward others have been when they encountered Christians and were exposed to their norms and values. But that never lasts: the default position is one of intolerance.
Rychlak mentions Saudi Arabia as a nation where “Christians are barred from becoming citizens, and it is illegal to import, print, or own Christian materials.” This is what makes Georgetown University so conspicuously delinquent: The liberal, pro-women, and anti-oppression citadel of Jesuit thought accepted $20 million from Saudi Arabia in 2005.
Not surprisingly, Georgetown employs a tenured professor who teaches that slavery and rape are acceptable if seen through Muslim eyes. Prof. Jonathan A.C. Brown, a convert to Islam, told his students at Georgetown’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding that “there is no such thing as slavery,” and “non-consensual sex” — otherwise known as rape — can be defended. The old adage you get what you pay for rings true.
If campuses were as committed to diversity of thought as they are to diversity of students, Rychlak’s article would be assigned reading in the social sciences and humanities. But they are not. The ideologically programmed professors would never allow their students to hear or read a contrary thought.
Bill Donohue, President
Catholic League for Religious & Civil Rights
New York, New York
I am not renewing my subscription. I am ashamed I did not cancel it after the New Oxford Note appeared on the removal of Confederate monuments (“Twilight of the Idols,” Oct. 2017).
I enjoyed your magazine for several years and even made small donations in response to your fundraising letters. But I was saddened that you mocked my ancestors who fought and died attempting to repel a brutal and unconstitutional invasion of their homeland. To liken them to Nazi stormtroopers made me livid. I could go on at length about how the War was not caused by slavery and how the invading army of the Lincoln administration never held the moral high ground in the conflict. I see no point in that; the scholarship is there in abundance. You and others of your kind will continue to ignore it and distort it to serve your own purposes.
The sad part is that you presume to judge fellow Christians struggling to live their faith in a fallen world they did not create. They certainly did not go to war to defend evil; they fought for home and family and to be left alone. The fact that they got some moral issues wrong does not permit the presumption that they were moral monsters embracing evil for its own sake. They were moral giants compared to those who treasure their own self-righteousness over others’ devotion to duty, loyalty, and courage.
I continue to hold many of the views of your magazine with regard to the current crises in the Church, but I have no desire to support or associate with those who do not respect “the tears of things” in my heritage and history.
Jack A. McGaughey
Ed. Note: We’ll let George Weigel have the final say here: “There are tendencies toward provincialism…in American culture that militate against the public moral debate being as wisely engaged as it might otherwise be…. Catholic social teaching is a self-consciously transcultural and transhistorical tradition” (First Things, May 1992).
Not the “Real” Catholic Church
Late last year, I received a request for a donation to keep your magazine afloat, and I considered contributing. Then I received the January-February issue, and after reading some of it, I decided this is not what I am looking for. I am looking for deeper insights into Roman Catholicism. What I was reading was the new Catholicism.
I lived through the times of Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and the continuing dismantling of the Catholic Church by Francis. Having read the lives of the saints, it is clear that none of these men are saints — unless we’re going to canonize Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the like. Knowing and seeing all the damage they did, and the fact that “legitimate authority” had to change the rules of canonization to proclaim them saints, proves to me this is not the Roman Catholic Church founded by our Lord Jesus Christ. This is a New Order fifth-column modernist outfit. In my opinion, the reason Paul VI and John Paul II were “canonized” was to fool the laity and keep the scam alive.
If this is your church and you consider all the changes these modernists have made as okay and part of the Catholic Church, then we are on opposite sides of the battle.
I am glad I kept my money and did not renew my subscription.
THE EDITOR REPLIES:
Our Church — the authentic and only Catholic Church, which has maintained apostolic succession through the ages — recognizes John Paul II and Paul VI as valid popes (Mr. Kilian doesn’t deign to call them that) and as saints (Mr. Kilian refuses to call them that). One of the key parts of the canonization process is verification of not one but two miracles that can be attributed to the intercession of the candidate for sainthood. It is within the competence of the “legitimate authority” of the Catholic Church to make that determination.
If the “church” Mr. Kilian call his own doesn’t recognize these men as saints, then his church must not possess legitimate authority in such matters. Therefore, it cannot be the authentic Catholic Church, for it cannot recognize or verify supernatural occurrences that result from intercessory prayer and have no natural or scientific explanation.
Our Church, on the other hand, is on the side of miracles, whereas Mr. Kilian’s, as he says, is on the “opposite side of the battle.”
You May Also Enjoy
The increasing blindness to true human dignity expresses itself, for example, in the way even…
Fr. Neuhaus, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.
Talk show host Janeane Garofalo's guru is Freud, and she often refers to someone as being "emotionally unintelligent." What does that mean?