Sunday, May 24, 2020

Looking for Perspective III: A Church or The Church?

In our last look on the crisis of confidence orthodox Catholics face we looked at the "chatter machine", the religious bad news industry which makes writers' livings by stirring up the mixed emotions of the faithful and, inadvertently, weakening their resolve. That is the media creating side of this equation, but what about the media consuming side?

For those of us who neither make the news nor filter it for benighted readers we are left to take whatever is out there and let it take hold over us. Even if the news is untrue it influences public prejudices and sentiments, which are very hard to break even after reality is exposed (cf. Russiagate). It is for this reason that we Catholics struggle against the chatter machine.

We endure bad news, but we will keep our faith. Or will we?

In our post-Modern, post-Enlightenment world we perceive truth to be a relative thing, even if we profess Truth, the person of Jesus Christ, to be an absolute reality upon which every human person depends for salvation. So when the chatter machine finally gets to Mrs. Dithers or young Jack, both are left with a variety of options as to where they can pursue that absolute Truth.

Our infinite optionitis abounds. I once met an Anglican after Lessons & Carols at the Church of the Incarnation (Anglican) in Dallas who professed that the Catholic Church was the true Church of Christ and that she had maintained the integrity of Apostolic teaching. What was stopping him from making a change? "You guys gotta get rid of that Novus Ordo Mass." Yes, we do, but your parish offers a "modern" and "relevant" rock and roll service in a function room led by a clergyman wearing black trousers and a clerical collar rather vestments. "Yes, but I don't have to go to that, whereas if I was a Catholic I might have to go to a new rite Mass at some point."

Lapsed Catholics abound. While most fall away as the remnants of the Christian culture fade into history some leave fairly good situations. A fellow I knew during my post-university years left the Church to become Greek Orthodox, convinced that liberalism would never take hold there. After a year he was disillusioned, hopped through progressively more reactionary Orthodox settings until landing in ROCOR, and attends a parish where the women dress like 19th century Russian peasants while the men pretend they want to be there.

All of this betrays the underlying relativism available to us today. To one shaken by current affairs, especially as given to us by the chatter machine, the Church becomes a Church, something the great reforming saints of the past would never consider nor would the rich and the poor, the educated and the simple who supported their efforts. Saint Francis de Sales did not believe he had the moral option to become a Calvinist, or a secularist, or an Old Believer, or a night-club patron even if he did in fact have the social ability to become at least two of those choices.

We can be anything—quite literally—imaginable except a confident, stable person who adheres to sure ideas. Confidence is not the same as close mindedness, a reactionary attitude nor is openness an amenability to any and every possibility. Never before have we had so many options to determine what "I am the way, the truth, and the life" means for us, because what it means is actuality is less important to most of us than it ought to be.

Christ gave each and every human person a conscience and He gave to the Church His own authority through the succession of Apostles. One thinks of the example of Newman, who first came to dissent from prevailing Anglican teaching after years of study, but upon being received by Dominic Barberi into "the one true fold" looked upon the Church as his teacher rather than as the place where similar opinions were held.


  1. Just a thought about your Episcoplalian?R.C. conversation.
    I wonder how many people are so infected with liberal individualism and subjectivism as to make their theological principles very flexible or non-existent ?
    A couple of examples. I live in a liturgical desert; it's not bad, but no Traditional rite Mass available, just very dull,parish Novus Ordo (no guitars) If a group of Non-Una Cum Sede vacantists or indeed an Orthodox jurisdiction - maybe ROCOR WEstern Rite, were to come and build a little place ten minutes walk from me, how long would it take me before I swallowed my Habemus-papism convictions and rocked up to the Sedevacantists on Sunday morning for a Gregorian Sung Mass ?
    Another scene: I know a number of people whose theological outlook and liturgical preference was that of the SSPX; convinced Tridentinists. However, every Sunday they went faithfully to the London Oratory Solemn Mass, (New Rite in Latin) putting their aesthetic principles before their theological ones.They preferred to hear some Lassus or Palestrina rather than tiptoe through the cabbage leaves en route for the dull dark wood paneled sanctuary of the SSPX church of SS Joseph & Padarn in darkest north London and the pubs, around the Oratory are so much nicer.
    My point, how many of us develop a theological and ecclesiological outlook based on what we can get to ?

    1. I'd say they were really looking to shop at Harrod's up the road.

      We are generally, initially formed by where we start and what is available to us, but, like Newman and his journey with conscience, formative years must mature into something that can carry its own weight. Barring a genuine change of theological opinion—either through deep study or a miracle—I have much more respect for those who do something to affect better things in their own environs than those who look for a place to be themselves.

      On a related topic, the atomization of society, and sectarian communities, makes it much harder for one to feel at home in one's spiritual home. For instance, a hundred years ago someone wanting to be a monk just went to the nearest monastery. It did not require weighing choices among the numerous monasteries around the country and world which might suit that person's personality, which contradicts the point of dying to one's self.