Wednesday, September 07, 2005

What Makes a Catholic?

There is one question I came to the blogosphere with, a question I still haven't gotten a concrete answer to. Now's as good a time as any to visit it -- and I want to hear everyone, because we've all got our own answers. Cari fratelli e sorelle:

What makes a Catholic?

Someone seeking the answer to that question will probably come out of these forums more confused than they were on entering. Both sides can (and do) go on and on for days -- they've gone on for years -- about perceived disparities and alleged errors of formation, ecclesiology, liturgy, proper dress and presentation (or the lack thereof), textbooks, catechetics, "misguided compassion," and runaway pastoral associates.

But, from all this talk, is it any clearer? What makes a Catholic? Have we missed the point of it all? And is it possible that both sides aren't as far apart as some of us might make them out to be?

Think about it: The Left hones in on social justice, charity of spirit, our better angels and elevating the soul through love toward others -- a horizontally-geared philosophy meant to manifest the vertical; Jay Dolan called it "Enlightenment Catholicism." The Right places its focus on uncompromising doctrinal fidelity, a particular concern for the rights of the unborn, sumptuous liturgy that raises the soul to the heavens, a focus on our wounded nature, adherence to the letter of the law as gateway to the future -- a school of the vertical trickling down into the horizontal; Dolan called it "Tridentine Catholicism." Not that these qualities are mutually exclusive to one group, but both are doing great Thomas Jefferson imitations and doing a cut-and-paste of Bible and Tradition, creating divergent hierarchies of truth and true Catholicism not on the basis of the right, but the comfort level they engender for those who subscribe to each.

But as we all know and have long seen, when one side sees something it doesn't like, it goes on an expedition to call the other side "Catholic in Name Only," or "retrograde," or "heretical," or "un-Christlike," or "liberal," or worse.... You don't need me to run through the roster of epithets; and I am guilty of some myself.

Now, the traditional means of determining what's Catholic from what isn't is what the Pope and the bishops say. But even that has been subverted as both Left and Right feel free to ignore the judgments of competent authority when they see fit or, to hold onto some speck of credibility, stretch the limits of ecclesiology by instead pursuing the voices of those teachers who tickle their ears.

Just as Protestants "church-shop" and end up where they feel comfortable, so two thousand years of the structure whose purpose is to determine what makes a Catholic in a given place has been subverted, as the Left flocks to its Mahonys, McCarricks, and Gumbletons regardless of who their proper bishop is and the Right heeds its Bruskewiczes, Burkes and Olmsteds, irrespective of who their own ordinary is. And both sides do what they can to shred the credibility of the other, irrespective of the authority of the Popes who put them all in their places to begin with. And when you do all that, there goes the order of things.

In this schema, the church is no longer church but a cult of personality. And a church that is a cult of personality, as we all know, loses its timelessness, its real reason for being.

Is it possible that both sides are shooting shy of that vast middle where the church is, where the truth is? Quite so.

Is it possible that Left and Right can peacefully coexist and realize that what unites the two is immeasurably greater than what divides them? I hope so.

Is it possible for all of us, when we see something we don't like, to put our tastes aside and realize that, when something's valid, unity suffers when the tastes of each individual imposes itself and seeks to undermine those things that are not "Catholic like me"?

Again, I'm guilty of a lot of this... But let he who is without sin.....

Let's face facts: the only people who are, objectively, "out" are the SSPX, because -- and debate the validity of this 'til the cows come home if you must -- they obstinately ignored the law and assumed the authority of the Roman Pontiff on their own initiative and for their own motives, and thus were excommunicated until the Holy See relieves them of the penalty.

So that leaves us with these cats on the fringes: Call to Action, Catholics for a Free Choice, people who prefer to ignore Vatican II, anti-Semites, anti-Papists, ultra-montane popelovers, priests having affairs, Sophia-philes, deacons with vasectomies, Fr. Moderator, and the list goes on and on and ON....

But where's the line? And who can everyone trust to draw that line? The bishops? B16? America? First Things? George Weigel? Who?

It's a question we skirt every day. For clarity's sake, we need to strike the heart of it....

Anyone? Anyone?



Blogger Jeff said...

Rather than answering your question directly--which is just bound to cause a lot of noise, let me say this.

No matter who is IN and who is OUT of the Church; no matter who is REALLY Catholic and who ISN'T; no matter who is a sinner-that-hates-the-poor and who is a betrayer-of-tradition, we can still TALK.

A person who says, "You're not a real Catholic because you don't believe what the Church requires you to" can still talk to someone who says, "Well I dissent and YOU'RE a hypocrite who only cares about show and words." There really are (at least) two different sets of people who think they are Catholic. And they can assume good faith and TALK to each other, noting the good points and remembering that no matter how wrong someone is, you can still learn from them.

7/9/05 18:50  
Blogger Justin said...

Rocco - while I have disagreed quite strongly with some of your previous posts, I do think this is one of your better ones.

I don't know what makes a Catholic, but I guess we can all agree who makes a Catholic. That's a pretty reasonable starting point, I hope. Our belief in the Holy Ghost should give us hope that the whole thing won't go terribly wrong - that in the end, good will triumph.

I suppose belief in the Creed has to rank high on the list of what makes a Catholic. And, like you yourself mentioned - the Papacy has some role as well.

Are these the bare minimum? The Creed and the authority of the Magisterium? I guess even the question of bare minimum would not count as Catholic-ness.

I know, I've not answered your question. I'm just thinking aloud really.

7/9/05 19:04  
Blogger John Hearn said...

The Church needs to define herself in words and deeds so that men can hear her and see her, but to see only that is to see only a box, and you cannot catch the wind in a box. The Church is the supreme example of the famous Catholic "both and." The teachings tells us who Jesus Christ is, but they are meant to give us a taste for the truth, and point us to He who is the Truth.

In short the task of every Christian is to know and love God through Christ in the Holy Spirit. To try to know Him without loving Him in Himself and his creatures is as vain as to try to love Him without stretching ones intellect to know Him as He is.

7/9/05 19:57  
Blogger Jason Cardona said...

Let's not forget that, even though formal declarations of excommunication are rare, heresy comes attached with latae sentiae excommunication.

So, just because someone hasn't been declared a formal heretic doesn't mean they are firmly within the bosom of the Church. It'd be pretty hard for the Church to excommunicate every Joe heretic out there. So she provides for them in Canon Law.

If someone asks me what they need to do to be Catholic, I would tell them to believe what the Church teaches, without compromise, as best you know it. Live a life fully subordinated to the will of God. Pray. Do Penance. Carry out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Pray some more. Get a few indulgences. And hopefully we'll see one another in Heaven.

7/9/05 20:00  
Blogger GregY said...

For starters, naming McCarrick and Mahony in the same breath as Gumbleton is not fair to either of these princes of the Church!
The mystical Body includes everyone who is in a state of grace--Catholics, Orthdox, Protestants, and any others who, known only to God, have not "sinned against the light" that has been revealed to them. These are really and truly part of the Church, albeit, imperfectly united, for there is only one Body of Christ. This is as St. Augustine said (roughly paraphrasing), there are some who are inside the Church that really are not part of Christ's Body and some outside who are really within the bosom of Holy Mother Church.
On the other hand, when we speak strictly of the visible Body, I think we would normally include those who have made a profession of faith (or had the profession made on their behalf, in the case of infants, mentally disabled, et al.) and received (or began receiving) the sacraments of initiation.
Simply because you do not like a particular bishop or school of thought within the Church does not make anyone less a Catholic. A Catholic is one in communion with his bishop who confesses the faith of the apostolic college united with the Bishop of Rome. During the Arian heresy there were multitudes of bishops who denied the divinity fo Christ, but the Bishop of Rome maintained orthodoxy and this was upheld in the early councils. Thus the bishop is binding only insofar as he is united to Peter, the peg upholding the tent (cf Is 22:23-25)
Interestingly, anyone who is invovled with RCIA knows that the rite of acceptance one is made "somewhat" a Catholic and after that point, he/she can received a Catholic funeral, etc.
So the whole baptism of desire thing for catechumens gets a little hazy. As for the complex questions of excommunications, I'm not even going to venture there...

7/9/05 21:54  
Blogger Jimmy Mac said...

What is a Catholic?

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle."

Philo of Alexandria

And ....

"The reason there are no more freak shows is that we have become a (church) that has no more room for freaks."

Adapted from Christopher Lasch.

Lastly ....

"Notice everything. Overlook much. Improve a little."


7/9/05 23:25  
Blogger Curmudgeon said...

I'm not denying the difficulty of the situation, but I don't see how one can say that the SSPX are "out" of the Church. True, Fellay, deGallerata, Williamson, and Mallerais have been declared excommunicated for disobedience (not schism, heresy or apostacy), so they're under heavy censure right now, but they forfeited their membership in of the Church. Those four are still Catholic, whether or not the disciplinary declaration was well-founded. It seems that the Pope thinks they're still in the Church, or he wouldn't have received Fellay in the manner he did in an effort to reconcile the difficulties. Apparently the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity also thinks they're still in the Church, or they'd be coddling them just as they are with the Prots. So the answer for those four men are YES, they're in trouble, but NO, they're not "out" of the Church.

As for the priests of the SSPX, Rome hasn't issued a blanket declaration of excommunication on them, and hasn't (or hasn't frequently or publicly) prosecuted them under the judicial process. The only place I know that anything like this has happened is Lincoln, Nebraska, and to my knowledge, there are no SSPX priests domiciled in that diocese and therefore subject to that legislation anyways. Even if Rome did issue a declaration of excommunication for those priests, (1) it would be a discplinary matter within the church, not a casting-out, and (2) neither you nor would be a position to judge the subjective state of each of 450 or so souls, which would be necessary (given the current ambiguities of canon law) before we could comfortably
say the priests are "out."

So let's not just use a throw-away line that the SSPX is "out." Neither Rome nor they have manifested any indication that they're out.

On the other hand, Tom Dascle is an interesting case. Is he out? He still lists himself as Catholic, but he's in an invalid marriage, I've heard, and he goes to a Prot "church" these days. I'd love to kick him out, but my ex-cathedra declaration (from an ugly purple chair in my study) doesn't hold any watter. I would guess that in order to say definitively that he's out, the bishop where he's domiciled or quasi-domiciled would have to bring a tribunal to hear his case. If Dascle refused to answer to the summons of the Tribunal, then I guess he's made it clear that he's out. If he does answer the summons, he's perhaps manifested that he's still in (albeit in very deep trouble).


8/9/05 00:19  
Blogger Curmudgeon said...

Oops. poor editing on my part. I meant to say with respect to the 4 SSPX bishops:

. . . so they're under heavy censure right now, but they HAVE NOT forfeited their membership in of the Church . . . .

8/9/05 00:22  
Blogger Jimmy Mac said...

And why, dear Curmudgeon, when referring to the Protestants, do you refer to their churches with parentheses? Surely, you aren't THAT parochial?

8/9/05 11:49  
Blogger Jason Cardona said...

Protestants do not belong to Churches, at least not in a theological sense. They belong, properly, to ecclesial communities.

See the Holy See's declaration "Dominus Iesus" for further reading.

8/9/05 18:14  
Blogger Gene O'Grady said...

May I post a (I hope) non-argumentative comment about what makes a Catholic? Very briefly:

(1) Belief in the incarnation.

(2) Specific beliefs about the nature of God.

(3) Sacraments/Sacramentality. (Apologies if the latter is a kind of sloppy term.)

(4) Belief in the forgiveness of sins.

(5) Universality.

(6) Concern with authority/tradition.

(7) A rather different take on salvation than "salvation by faith alone."

8/9/05 18:58  
Blogger Jimmy Mac said...

The Holy See (a political entity, by the way ... I think you mean the Vatican) is free to delaim whatever it will about who is a church and who isn't, but don't expect any churches not affiliated with the Vatican to buy that definition.

8/9/05 20:37  
Blogger Curmudgeon said...

Mr. Cardona provided the response. It's because they aren't churches, properly speaking. See Pius XI's Mortalium Animos (or if you don't buy anything that's written between the Apocalypse and Lumen Gentium, see the Decree on Ecumenism from Vatican II (Unitatis Redintegratio), Nos. 3-4; CCC (somewhere-see the index). It's probably in Lumen Gentium somewheres too, but I'm too tired to look it up for you.

9/9/05 02:56  
Blogger Jason Cardona said...

The Holy See (a political entity, by the way ... I think you mean the Vatican)

No, I mean the Holy See. The Vatican is a temporal mass of land. The Holy See is the See of St. Peter, upon which the Bishop of Rome sits.

don't expect any churches not affiliated with the Vatican to buy that definition.

Churches and ecclesial communities don't buy a lot of Catholic definitions. If we lived our faith according to what other people "bought", it'd be pretty bare.

9/9/05 11:08  

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