Volume > Issue > The False Hope of a “More Apostolic Church”

The False Hope of a “More Apostolic Church”


By Robert McTeigue | March 2023
Fr. Robert McTeigue, S.J., is a member of the U.S. Eastern Province of the Society of Jesus. He is the producer and host of The Catholic Current, a radio talk show that airs on The Station of the Cross Catholic Media Network, and he is on the National Ethics Committee of the Catholic Medical Association. His latest books from Ignatius Press are Real Philosophy for Real People: Tools for Truthful Living (2020) and Christendom Lost and Found: Meditations for a Post Post-Christian Era (2022).

Here’s a misleading phrase: “You can’t turn back the clock.” At face value, it’s unobjectionable. Apart from science fiction, humans experience time only as flowing forward. Time cannot be undone.

As part of a rhetorical strategy, “You can’t turn back the clock” can be deployed to show that however intense the nostalgia for the putative original innocence of the “Good Old Days,” we can’t get there from here. Fair enough. In this sense, history is replete with instances of people trying — and failing — to “turn back the clock.” A perusal of the list of “communes,” both religious and secular, that ostensibly were established to show the human race how to return to Paradise would suffice to illustrate the point.

The clock-turning admonition can also be part of an unwittingly foolish rhetorical strategy. On this view, we’re being asked not to bother trying to learn from the past. Such an error is as easy to spot as it is to dismiss.

There is, however, a use of the phrase “You can’t turn back the clock” that is calculated, misleading, and insidious. It’s found in cultural and ecclesial commentary that runs something like this: “The age of Christendom is over! It’s time to return to the Church of the Apostles. It’s time to learn to live as a more apostolic Church.” What’s being suggested here is “Yes, in fact, you can turn back the clock — you just have to know how.”

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