Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Battle Lines Have Changed

Gather around, little kiddies, and Uncle Boniface will explain to you why popular Catholic apologists can no longer continue to function as if it is still the 1990s and the golden age of Catholic Answers--and why the battle lines of inter-Christian squabbling have fundamentally changed.

In the previous generation (meaning 1980s-2000s), Catholic apologetics was largely defined by disputes about the content of various Christian creeds; i.e., "Lutherans believe this, but Catholics believe that. Let's dispute about who is right." In that sort of climate, it was easy for confessions to dispute with one another. Persons professing some sort of formulaic creed can argue with others who profess a different creed because they had the common ground of both professing some creed.  It was in this atmosphere that Catholic apologetics contra Protestantism could flourish. It was in this sort of climate that apostolates like Catholic Answers thrived and books like Catholicism and Fundamentalism were of essential importance.

You see, in this older situation, we evaluated other Christian confessions on to what degree the content of their creed approximated Catholic tradition. Christians who had more in common with the Catholic faith were considered "closer" to us, those who shared less were "further." Let's visualize it this way:

This view is certainly accurate, considered from a doctrinal standpoint. But I submit that this mental paradigm is no longer helpful—the main reason for this being that the essential divisions within Christianity are no longer confessional. It used to be that Christianity was divided up into several confessions and that the members of each confession were presumed to be faithful at least to the tenets of their own confession. A man was a Baptist because he affirmed the Baptist confession and denied those that were at odds with his. And of course a Catholic was a Catholic because he affirmed the teachings of the Catholic faith. To be sure, the Baptist or the Catholic may have been born into these communities, but did not detract from the expectation that one who belonged to a certain confession actually professed it.

But the situation has changed drastically. The contemporary division within global Christianity is not creed vs. creed, but people who profess a creed vs. people who have no creed—those whose faith has a doctrinal skeleton and those whose faith has no structure at all, but is rather a kind of gelatinous mass molded and vivified by nothing beyond the opinions of the masses. This division transcends all forms of Christianity. Across the Catholic Church, the world of the Orthodox, and the Protestant confessions there is a profound de facto schism between those who believe Christianity has an objective, definable form whose boundaries are delineated by particular doctrines and, on the other hand, those who believe Christianity to be essentially whatever its adherents wish it to be at any given time—which is inevitably going to be defined by popular opinion, fad, etc.

In this atmosphere, creed vs. creed apologetics no longer has the weight it once did when most sincere Christians of any stripe are fighting bitterly simply to affirm the existence of any creed within their respective communities.

The current battle lines are drawn more or less like this, with the current "alliance" being not so much drawn horizontally on the spectrum based on doctrine but vertically, centered on the concept of tradition:

Some Traditionalists will immediately object that it is totally errant to align a traditional Catholic with, say, a traditional Baptist or a traditional Anglican because (a) the content of these other creeds' tradition is different and defective in light of Catholic truth, and (b) the "traditions" of Lutheranism or "The Wellspring" megachurch down the road are themselves forms of liberalism that are ultimately responsible for the destruction of western civilization.

Considered doctrinally, these critiques would certainly be correct. But I want to urge such critics to stop thinking of tradition here only in terms of its content. The question here isn't whose traditions are right. Consider tradition more anthropologically—tradition as existing whenever a group is being faithful to its own customs, founding principles, and internal telos. Thus, a "traditional" Calvinist is going to be a Calvinist who is faithful to the founding principles of Calvinism. A traditional Methodist is one who is faithful to the principal tenets of historical Methodism.

And it is this which is under attack everywhere across the Christian world. It is an attack against any form of Christianity that maintains some form of definable structure based on some external authority—be it Sacred Tradition, the Scriptures, historical confessions, or whatever. The ultimate goal is to transform global Christianity from something that has objective structure into something that is entirely subjectivized, something which takes its form entirely from the mood of the contemporary rabble. Something that is purely based on the ever-shifting emotional cravings of the plebs of [CURRENT YEAR]. It is not only the particular contents of Christianity's skeleton that are under attack, but the very existence of a doctrinal skeleton at all, regardless of its content. The architects of the current zetigeist want to ensure that Christianity will henceforth forever bow its head and alter its position whenever the powers-that-be tell us we are now at war with East Asia and no longer at war with Eurasia.

Catholics should never defend error; we should not defend traditional Calvinism just because we see it is under attack just as we are. We should, however, recognize how the battle is being waged, where the lines are being drawn, and that the locus of our defense of the faith should be on the existence of an objective, definable structure to the Christian religion. This takes precedence over older style apologetical works which focus on the content of our religion. These will always have a place, to be sure, but this is no longer where the greatest attack comes from and hasn't been for a long time. The attacks on Christianity are no longer so much about the content of our creeds as much as Christians' stubborn insistence on having a creed.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Best Posts of 2019

The year of our Lord 2019 was a monumental one in the history of the Catholic Church. Most of the Church news of the year was dominated by the Amazon Synod and the Pachamama scandal, but on top of that we had ongoing revelations of sexual abuse and investigations by Attorneys General in several states, the publication of the Open Letter to Catholic bishops, the revelations of the Vatican's $200 London investment boondoggle, the extremely problematic “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together", the canonization of John Henry Newman, the fall of Fr. Rosica under accusations of plagiarism, and much more. What a time to be alive and be Catholic!

It was also a busy year for me personally and professionally. Despite all that, USC published 35 essays in 2019. Here are 13 of my personal favorites:

On the Concept of Celebration: Celebration is a very fluid thing that can be anything from solemn and dignified to boisterous and inebriated. People who say the Church's traditional liturgies aren't sufficiently celebratory are using the word in a very reductive sense.

Pius VI and the Synod of Pistoia: Review of the 1786 Synod of Pistoia, an extraordinary event whereby some ecclesiastics of the day tried to shove through a series of reforms very similar to what we later got in the post-Conciliar period.

The Church Doesn't Need More Women's Involvement
: In what sense can anybody claim that women are underrepresented in the Catholic Church? Women already dominate the Church at almost every level.

Praying Through the Mass: The Extraordinary Form of the Mass enables a kind of contemplative prayer that is built right into the structure of the liturgy.

Christ Will Give You Victory: Some excellent reflections a priest gave me on the spiritual life. The distance between yourself and God is only as great as you believe it to be. Christ can give you total victory over your sins.

Inculturation and the Missions: Video about how the idea of inculturation is undermining Catholic missions...and yes, I know I mispronounce the name of Pachamama.

"But Eastern Churches Have Married Priests": How come nobody care's about the traditions of the West but the customs of the East are sacrosanct?

Excommunication is a No-No: The biblical purpose of excommunication is not merely the repentance of the sinner but the protection of the community. In the modern Church, excommunication of lay persons is something our prelates have no stomach for.

Comments on the 'Open Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church': Some observations on the letter a group of theologians and academics published in 2019 asserting that Pope Francis is promulgating heresy.

The New Double Truth Theory: How theologians and prelates advance heresy while talking out of both sides of their mouth.

Theology of the Body is Not Catholic Teaching: Because of the very low level of authority at which John Paul II's Theology of the Body was delivered (papal homilies) it cannot be considered an authoritative teaching.

There's Always a Priest Shortage in Missionary Areas: Defaulting to a married priesthood in the Amazon because of an alleged priest-shortage is nonsensical; there are always priest shortages in such areas.

What People Don't Understand About Syncretism: A lot of Catholics don't understand what sycretism really is. This article will help explain.

Thank you very much for spending another year in the company of me, your ornery online Catholic friend. It's crazy thinking that after doing this for going on thirteen years, USC is one of the most consistent constants in my life. I don't know whether I should be proud of that or cry.

Some basic information on Unam Sanctam Catholicam:

This blog was launched formally on June 29, 2007. Since then we have published around 2,000 articles that have been viewed 3 million times; we average 20,000 to 30,000 page views per month. Throughout the Benedictine and Franciscan pontificates, Unam Santcam Catholicam has been one of the Internet's most reliable sources of randomly posted, annoyingly pedantic, and contrarian Catholic content. Also our RCIA notes and outlines (offered on our sister site) have been downloaded 80,000 times.

Hope everyone has a blessed 2020!