They have no lasting poetry, no sculpture, no memorable novels, no architecture, no music that isn’t a cheap imitation or childish emoting. When an Evangelical wishes to learn how to integrate faith and the arts, he inevitably falls back on Catholic examples, and then spends hours explaining to his friends why reading Flannery O’Connor doesn’t necessarily make one a dirty papist.Consider the American Calvinist. Occasionally this individual will be a member of a mainstream denomination like the Presbyterians, but most often the Calvinist is to be found in a small, roaming pack of co-religionists. Rather than living within the tradition of the great iconoclast John Knox, they make historical reference solely to the 17th-century Synod of Dort by way of its oversimplification in the 20th-century floral mnemonic TULIP. Sometimes they can quote Calvin himself, but only as already quoted by a Calvinist preacher. Their taste in clothing, facial hair, and alcohol have more in common with urban hipsters than with their Reformed forebears. As likely as not, they belong to no denomination, but only to some "local church."
The case is even worse with the more generic Evangelical Christian. There is no unifying principle, even for a single community—no history, no hymnody, no common creed beyond a bland belief in the Trinity and the authority of the Scriptures. Ministers are often burdened with attendees who are not even certain they believe in God because they are so angry with their Creator. (Horrifyingly, our Catholic parishes resemble the Evangelical milieu more and more every year.)
Protestantism is a persistent heresy in part because it is so good at adaptation. The first few generations of this movement reinvented themselves to appeal to the needs of the time. Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Melanchthon, and all the rest were vastly different personalities with vastly differing theologies, all flying more or less under the banner of the five Solas for the appearance of unanimity. Luther was a crypto-Manichean, but Melanchthon retroactively wrote him as an Augustine revivalist. King Henry exploited Protestantism for his own gains, caring little for theology.
As time went on, even the Solas fell out of favor, until Sola Scriptura was the last one standing. And then, liberal Protestants ate away even at the authority of the Holy Writ with its endless stream of German Panzer exegetes. Fewer and fewer Protestants, even self-professed conservatives, can be found today who unironically profess the authority of Scripture.
Luther exploited the exhaustion of the laity who were sickened by simony and clerical lechery. Calvin exploited the rising humanistic trends of linguistics and the dismissal of gradually developed tradition. Knox exploited the political chaos in Britain to loot the churches of Scotland. The so-called Great Awakenings were movements that exploited resentments and pushed for social justice, birthing denominations like an endless series of bastard children. Historical-Critical scholarship exploited the rise of skepticism and anti-religious sentiment. Charismatic groups exploited the dryness that came from an excess of loveless doctrine. Televangelists exploited the lonely and desperate who had no friends outside of their television sets.
Doctrinally, Protestantism might as well be renamed Proteanism in its perversion of the Pauline desire to become "all things to all men." The heresies concerning justification and the sacraments were condemned at Trent, but most spiritual descendants of the Reformation today could not even explain what they believe about those things. They attend church services to hear a nice sermon that may or may not be about Jesus, and sometimes hope to be convicted by "the Spirit" to change their lives for the better, but they don't care to know much about the nature and character of God. They come for the community and the small discussion groups, sometimes for the marriage counseling. When they stop feeling "fed," they move on to what seems like greener pastures at a new church.
For all its faults, the Counter-Reformation insisted on retaining a recognizable Catholic identity in the Roman Rite (liturgically, theologically, and artistically), and this monolithic homogenization was a draw to those exhausted by the shifting waves of Protestantland. Eventually, Protestantism found a way to exploit even the Catholic Church, adjusting itself like a parasite to a new host, and now the Church finds herself desperate to adapt to every perceived need of modern man, no matter how little modern man cares for her attention.
The Church has raised up many opponents to the Protestant mutagen, but they are all as different as their target chose to become: Erasmus, Robert Bellarmine, the Society of Jesus, Francis de Sales, and so on. There is an argument to be made that Protestantism is just a continuation of the old Manichean heresy that itself traces back to the Gnostics of Apostolic times. So perhaps there is no true end of the perennial heresy until the end of the world. Even if the last traces of Luther and Calvin are eradicated from the earth, some mutated strain would live on in the hearts of men. The best we can do is prevent infection and hold true, even when many in the Church recommend succumbing to its sway.
|Prayer card for the martyrs of Douai College.|