Monday, July 3, 2017

After the Reformation III: The Incomplete Christian

The battles for orthodoxy have left many losers throughout the centuries. With the wealth of divine revelation that came from the Incarnate God through his Apostles, misunderstandings and intentional perversions abounded almost immediately in the infant Church. Simon Peter's paternal mission of protecting the treasure of revelation was opposed by Simon Magus, the father of Gnosticism and—according to many Church Fathers—all heresies. Since the expulsion of Simon from the Church, ecclesiastical history has seen similar treatment given to the Arians, Montanists, Pelagians, Docetists, iconoclasts, Albigensians, Lutherans, and many more. The errors that degrade and deform the true Faith are necessarily anathematized and cast into the outer darkness.

Some of these heresies lingered for centuries after their explicit condemnation. Arianism was anathematized in AD 381, but St. Boethius was sentenced to death by an Arian king in 524, and it survived in organized form until at least the 7th century in North Africa. There's an old joke that goes like this:
Two men considering a religious vocation were having a conversation. The first asked, "How can we compare the Jesuits and Dominicans?"
The second replied, "Well, they were both founded by Spaniards — St. Dominic for the Dominicans, and St. Ignatius of Loyola for the Jesuits. They were also both founded to combat heresy — the Dominicans to fight the Albigensians, and the Jesuits to fight the Protestants." 
"Then what's different between the Jesuits and Dominicans?" 
"Met any Albigensians lately?"
But that isn't entirely fair. While the Lutheran heresy has lingered for five hundred years, it has done so by way of constant mutation, and it is hardly unique in its longevity. By the time the Church condemned Protestant errors at Trent, men of notable intelligence had already been getting creative with Luther's theology and making it their own, and papal respect had been so greatly diminished among the populace that few cared any longer what the bishop of distant Rome had to say.

The Counter-Reformation fought back with a renewed sense of Thomism, but Protestants were so successful everywhere they went that the Church had to take a defensive approach in places where the Catholic Faith had once reigned uncontested. A siege mentality may be necessary from time to time, but it is not conducive to social health. A city under blockade will not survive for long without suffering from famine and plague, even if it is not ultimately conquered. Likewise, the Church suffered for centuries under a war of attrition by Luther and his armies, and the wide open fields of Christendom were traded for bunkers and priest holes. P. John XXIII's admonition to "throw open the windows of the Church" was not a sign that the enemies of God had stopped lobbing mustard gas our way, but that he was tired of smelling his fellow bishops' funk.

Since then we have engaged in an uneasy truce with the mutant grandchildren of Luther and his fish-barrel wife. The alternative to closed-door, manualistic gas was the recognition of our former enemies as fellow men of faith. The condemnations of Trent died the death of a thousand qualifications, and only positive acclamations of Protestant doctrine and practice were permitted to be voiced. The mere practice of baptism was enough for the Council Fathers to declare them as "separated brethren": "For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect"—surely this was a surprise to the millions of Evangelicals who still considered the papacy to be something akin to the Whore of Babylon!

So now we have Christians who are in "imperfect" communion with the Church of God (e.g., Lutherans and Presbyterians), and those who are in "perfect" communion (e.g., Cdls. Kasper and Mahoney). Catholic clerics endlessly praise the love Protestants have for the Holy Writ, and their desire for a "personal relationship" with Jesus. The Protestant is idealized and made an exemplar of Catholic piety, even though his spiritual life is often composed of a series of existential crises rather than solid faith and hope.

Some Catholic converts from Protestant sects refuse to even call themselves converts, preferring rather to express their move as a growth into the fullness of Christian reality. No longer is Luther a heretic to be condemned, but a misunderstood German theologian—aren't they all?—who only wanted the best for the Church. The traditional anathema was necessary for the mental health of Catholics cleric and lay, for it allowed them to see reality as it actually was. Now we are forced at gunpoint to see only the good in the enemies of the Church, and so we have descended gradually but inevitably into actual madness.

The Protestant milieu is not "mere Christianity" as C.S. Lewis would have it, nor is Catholicism simply "more Christianity" as Fr. Dwight contends. Catholicism is Christianity, and Protestantism is something else; that the latter happens to contain elements of Christianity is ultimately immaterial. We would never call Arianism an "incomplete Christianity" because Fr. Arius happened to say many true things in between his lies.

Heretics are men who have made shipwreck of their faith, and they visit their sin upon their third and fourth generations by denying them the means of salvation. If they are mindful enough to baptize their sons, even these deny themselves salvation as soon as they are old and knowledgable enough to repudiate the Catholic Faith. (In some Protestant circles this is practically a rite of passage.) Since more and more Protestants no longer even baptize in an acceptable manner, the single Sacrament they could once boast is slipping from their grasp. They stand naked and trembling before the gaze of Heaven. It is a terrible thing to possess knowledge of Christ and salvation, but to lack the means to attain it.

"The devils also believe—and tremble."


  1. Excellent post. Kudos.

    ABS wonders how many know that every child Baptised with the trinitarian formula is automatically Catholic -every single protestant one of them. It is only when the Baptised child gains maturity (say, about seven) and refuses the authority of the Church that he becomes a heretic.

    What Grimthorpe did to St Albans Cathedral in England is what Vatican Two did to the Church and so we Catholics no longer speak about a perfect society (both Church and State are perfect societies in that each has the means to actualise the ends for which it was created) but, as J. observed, we have full communion this and partial communion that.

    One weird thing about the new expression of the faith is that The Baltimore Catechism teaches a very similar view of the Church.

    ABS remembers this and now he will have to go and fetch it because it makes for an interesting bit of info.

    1. About the obscure reference:,_1st_Baron_Grimthorpe

  2. Baltimore Catechism entries on full (and, thus, implying partial?) communion:

    169a. What conditions are necessary in order that a person be a member of the Mystical Body in the full sense?

    In order that a person be a member of the Mystical Body in the full sense, it is necessary that he be baptized, that he profess the Catholic faith, and that he neither separate himself from the Mystical Body nor be excluded by lawful authority.

    And if he refuses to hear them, appeal to the Church, but if he refuses to hear even the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and the publican. (Matthew 18:17)

    169b. How does a baptized person separate himself from full incorporation in the Mystical Body?

    A baptized person separates himself from full incorporation in the Mystical Body by open and deliberate heresy, apostasy or schism.

    169c. How does a baptized person separate himself from full incorporation in the Mystical Body by heresy?

    A baptized person separates himself from full incorporation in the Mystical Body by heresy when he openly rejects or doubts some doctrine proposed by the Catholic Church as a truth of divine-Catholic faith, though still professing himself a Christian.

    169d. When does a baptized person separate himself from full incorporation in the Mystical Body by apostasy?

    A baptized person separates himself from full incorporation in the Mystical Body by apostasy when he openly rejects the entire Christian faith.

    169e. When does a baptized person separate himself from full incorporation in the Mystical Body by schism?

    A baptized person separates himself from full incorporation in the Mystical Body by schism when he openly refuses obedience to the lawful authorities of the Church, particularly to the Pope.

    169f. When is a baptized person separated from full incorporation in the Mystical Body by lawful authority?

    A baptized person is separated from full incorporation in the Mystical Body by lawful authority when he incurs one of the more severe forms of excommunication.

  3. One last interesting and seeming anomaly from The Baltimore Catechism:

    Q. 564. How is the Church Catholic or universal?

    A. The Church is Catholic or universal because it subsists in all ages, teaches all nations, and maintains all truth.

    1. The verb "subsistere" is not problematic in itself. It's usage is.

      The "in" of LG is problematic and even if you put "exsistit" before it, so that you get "Haec Ecclesia, (...), exsistit in Ecclesia catholica", the problem doesn't go away.

    2. The Deharbe Catechism doesn't use the word "Subsists".
      "Because from the time of Christ she has continually existed with the same teaching,the same priestly,and the same Pastoral Office as at the present time.Because she is spread over the whole universe,and because she is constantly spreading,in accordance with the Divine Commission,
      "Go ye into the whole world,and preach the gospel to every creature"

  4. J., very fine essay. Very germane, I think, is one of the old scholastic principles tacitly set aside nowadays (ever since the 1960's--surprise!): "To say that something is secundum quid good is to say that simpliciter it is bad."

    If I may illustrate: to say that Protestants, et al., are in communion secundum quid ("according to a particular aspect") means that simpliciter ("in essence" or "on the whole") they are not in communion.

    Another neglected principle that has equally awful implications in contemporary discussions is: "Where there is distinction, there is hierarchy." But that's better left for another day.

  5. Dear Marko. Because the reading of particular sources, ABS used to think that also, but Msgr. Gherardasini rescues its use by reading LG 8 and UR 3 together so as to arrive at a metaphysical solution: It was, according to my judgement, the only way to distance the conciliar text from the shadow of a doctrinal compromise

    Page 269 "The Ecumenical Vatican Council II A MUCH NEEDED DISCUSSION.

    Page 271 is a rehearsal of his keen injections and frustrations with the councilor language but he is insistent subsitit in describes the only true Catholic Church

    ABS has no way on knowing if the description of the Msgr is true or not- a great Thomist - but he pulls no punches is this great book.

    1. Msgr. Gherardini. This auto-correct is irksome

    2. I have read various explanations of the "in" copula. None are satisfactory to me.

      Ordinary reading of the copula simply posits two separate entities of which one is situated in the other, with possible room for other entities. Moreover, that kind of juxtaposition of entities results not only in lexical difference, but in true ontological difference, as if there was a Church of Christ which is a numerically different entity from the Catholic Church.

      Now, if one would read that "in" as in "consists in", that would be a happier reading because that kind of reading approximates to identifications of the juxtaposed entities.

      So, the key problem is mutual identity of those things which are designated by various terms. I.e., there can be a lexical but not semantic and ontological difference.

      I should be able to say "The Synagogue of Christ", "The Body of Christ", "The people of God", "The assembly of God", in the same sentence and still mean the "Church of Christ", which has marks of being one, holy, catholic and apostolic.

  6. Dear Marko. Well, whatever it is, we can be sure that referring to The One True Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church is essentially forbidden because Triumphalism.


    1. Son is not only unindentical to the Father in that that he's not the Father, but also in that that he is not the unoriginated origin of Divinity.

      The article simply doesn't deal with the different meanings of Latin and Greek words for "proceed".

      St. Maximos was defending latins by saying that they don't believe that the Spirit proceeds from the Son in exactly the same way as he does from the Father. Today, latins don't even know that the Father is the sole unoriginate origin of the Divinity and that all the Son has, he has from the Father. It sure was a novelty for me a few years ago when i learnt it...