Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Contra Gentiles (or, Against the Converts)

(Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld)

When one has spent any significant amount of time reading online Catholic commentary, odds are the reader will have come across something like these aphorisms:
“Converts should keep quiet, and spend at least a decade learning the Faith and doing penance for their past sins.” 
“Never trust a convert who presumes to speak with authority.” 
“I always knew there was something wrong with X. He was unbalanced and constantly yelling at people who disagreed with his ideas of what the Church should be. Typical convert.”
Catholics love to boast about the number of converts entering the Church, but tend to look at their recently adopted brethren with a great deal of suspicion. The maxim of St. Philip Neri, that “Beginners should look after their own conversion and be humble,” is well-taken, but too often used as a billy club, and not just against those few converts who verbally express the Church’s obvious shortcomings.

Why are cradle Catholics so antagonistic towards converts? Many of them seem to forget that none are actually born Catholic. All are baptized out of darkness and into light; in a real sense, there is no Catholic who was not a convert. We are all rescued from the enslavement of the Devil. The ancient Hebrew law merged the importance of hospitality with the memory of universal alienation:
If a stranger dwell in your land, and abide among you, do not upbraid him, but let him be among you as one of the same country. And you shall love him as yourselves, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Lev. 19)
Thou shalt not molest a stranger, for you know the hearts of strangers. For you also were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Ex. 23)
We have all experienced the disorientation of entering into a new country, city, family, or social group. There is always a period of reorientation, which brings with it a deep need for the assistance of one’s newfound peers. We look to those around us and begin to imitate them. We watch what they do, listen to what they say, and attempt to fit in whilst remaining ourselves. What are we to make of those who criticize the newcomer for every peccadillo and misstep, who squelch their enthusiasm and encourage scrupulosity in minor things? Moses calls them molesters.

When the Twelve were given the mission to convert the world, it still took them some time to realize the implications of accepting Gentiles into the new ecclesia. The first, Jewish, Christians wanted the non-Jews to conform culturally to their preexisting Jewishness, and it took decades for the Apostles to decide thoroughly against this. Cephas received the first vision assuring them that the Mosaic dietary law was annulled, but even he later backslid into cultural inertia and scandalized the faithful.

The Judaizers of today are the devotionalists, the sola homeschool-ers, the parish council laymen, the clericalists, the eucharistic ministers, the wild-eyed Fatima prophets, the ultramontanes, the anti-papal hesychasts, the nosy church ladies who carefully vet every book they see you reading before Mass. There are a thousand ways of poking at the splinter in the newcomer’s eye, while ignoring the 2x4 swinging wildly out of one’s own. I might write thousands of words here against the bizarre oddities of Josephite devotion, but if I jump on a new person in my parish without introduction because he’s reading The Youthful Vigor of Mary’s Most Chaste Spouse, how am I any better than an aging hippy with a fake smile saying, “We don’t do that sort of nonsense around here, anymore”?

Not every convert is going to end up as crazy as a Gerry Matatics, a Mark Shea, or a Tertullian. Most of them simply want to be Catholic, to enter in more fully into the mystery of God’s Church. They don’t want to be constantly dodging banana peels dropped in their path by fellow Catholics.


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  2. In the hope of being just and consistent, I always tell both old and new Catholics (of whatever devotional or liturgical background they may consider themselves to be, particularly if they appear to have some "Anglican" influence) to be observe silence and reserve about important liturgical, historical, philosophical, and theological topics in my presence until I have known them for over a year!

    It is just a much safer spiritual atmosphere that way! ;-)

    1. Most converts I know from the Anglican tradition tend to be liturgically sane, so your comment is unfair.

    2. Liturgically sane in the context of the New Order, where the bar is very low for what can be considered "liturgically sane." In my experience, that has not been the case, and when it comes to the Old Mass, converts from Anglicanism who come through the New Order tend to have very strange ideas about Liturgy (some even continue to indicate that there's a great possibility that Anglican Orders are not invalid, even when they themselves had to be ordained according to the rites and ceremonies of the Catholic Church).

    3. Validity of Anglican Orders is a sacramental question, not a liturgical one. For example it makes no sense liturgically to break the host at the moment of the consecration, but sacramentally it makes no difference.

      So be careful not to conflate the two :)

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  4. Hello! Great and edifying article. But what's an anti-papal hesychast?

    1. I'm thinking of the Byzantine Catholics who once swarmed me after a Divine Liturgy to opine on how they didn't have to accept the doctrines defined at Vatican I, because they were Eastern.

    2. It's what an ultramontanist might think I am. While I accept Vatican I in its proper context (under the lens of tradition), I believe it unleashed some of the most annoying misconceptions about the papacy that still plague us to this day.

    3. Thank you, sirs, for clearing that up!

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  6. Deleted last comment because I saw that you have already cleared up what an anti-papal hesychast was. I thought you were talking about the monks of Mt. Athos.

    I understand that devotionalism is a sentimental substitute for really solid piety, but I find your criticism of it to be somewhat out of place, in that I think that spiritual lukewarmness is a far greater plague on the Church than it. It seems odd that you'd complain about traditional devotions rather than the Charismaticism which is a more prevalent and more obviously dangerous form of devotionalism, but I suppose that's due to your immersion in and reflection upon traditionalism in particular. What is the evil of devotionalism? Is it a kind of sensuality or spiritual gluttony? I feel St. John of the Cross would be able to give a good answer of this, where he examines this kind of thing and their root psychological/spiritual causes. Are devotionalists really Judaizing subverters of the faith? Are they not just the well-intentioned people that are spiritually stunted, and that have not progressed past the first and more sensual stages of spirituality? I don't have much acquaintance, I'm a recent convert myself; I hope you can inform me.

    1. I'm using "Judaizer" in a very general sense, not in the technical sense as the theological error of requiring the Hebrew ceremonial laws in the Christian era. I mean it generally as an inversion of the hierarchy of truth and morals, of mistaking the lesser for the greater.

      In that sense, I mentioned devotionalism as something easily corrupted along these lines. Catholics who insist on specific (legitimate) devotions but lose the sense of the larger context of doctrine and morals are corrupting the spiritual life, much as the Pharisees did. There's nothing wrong per se about devotion to the Sacred Heart, the Divine Mercy chaplet, the Rosary, True Devotion, Fatima, etc., but many people use these as replacements for learning and living the Faith in its larger scope. I've heard sermons so focused on the merciful intercessory power of the Blessed Virgin that one could easily have walked away with the belief that affectionately praying a few Hail Marys every day will assuredly result in final salvation, no matter the extent of one's debauchery.

      As to the charismatic movement, I can only say that it did not occur to me to mention it, since I have had no direct experience with them. Maybe some day I will.

  7. If you're at all interested in knowing . . . the Catholic Dogma . . . that we *must believe* to get to Heaven, and which you have *never* seen . . .

    I list it on my website > >

    > > Abjuration of heresy to enter the Catholic Church >

    The Catholic God knows . . . what we think and believe . . .

    Catholic writing of Romans 1:21 >
    "They ... became vain in their thoughts, and their foolish heart was darkened."

    Catholic Faith (pre-fulfillment) writing of Deuteronomy 31:21 >
    "For I know their thoughts, and what they are about to do this day."

    Catholic Faith (pre-fulfillment) writing of Job 21:27 >
    "Surely I know your thoughts, and your unjust judgments against Me."

    The group that calls itself "islam" ... is not a religion. Fully proven by the fact that the "koran" says the *opposite* of the Old Testament Prophets > Section 113 of the site

  8. To get back to the original point of the post, the Vigilante is very well aware of the troubles converts face. My own father was baptized six months after I was. I have seen nearly every stage the convert goes through when confronted with difficulty. Though I am not an adult convert myself, i am very empathetic to what these "little brothers" face.

    I appreciate these posts from the J and hope that not only they continue but that others take notice of his points.

  9. But why is it that adult converts often will seek and gain positions of authority or positions that are influential, such as in media? I find that suspect.

    1. I'm not sure it's happening as often as you're suggesting, but maybe converts gravitate towards those positions because nobody else is bothering to fill them? People seeing the Church from the inside with fresh eyes often perceive needs that lifers have habitually ignored.