Saturday, October 9, 2010

Newman's Prophetic Warning of the Great "Apostasia"

   Hitherto the civil Power has been Christian. Even in countries separated from the Church, as in my own, the dictum was in force, when I was young, that: "Christianity was the law of the land". Now, everywhere that goodly framework of society, which is the creation of Christianity, is throwing off Christianity. The dictum to which I have referred, with a hundred others which followed upon it, is gone, or is going everywhere; and, by the end of the century, unless {66} the Almighty interferes, it will be forgotten.

   Hitherto, it has been considered that religion alone, with its supernatural sanctions, was strong enough to secure submission of the masses of our population to law and order; now the Philosophers and Politicians are bent on satisfying this problem without the aid of Christianity. Instead of the Church's authority and teaching, they would substitute first of all a universal and a thoroughly secular education, calculated to bring home to every individual that to be orderly, industrious, and sober, is his personal interest. Then, for great working principles to take the place of religion, for the use of the masses thus carefully educated, it provides—the broad fundamental ethical truths, of justice, benevolence, veracity, and the like; proved experience; and those natural laws which exist and act spontaneously in society, and in social matters, whether physical or psychological; for instance, in government, trade, finance, sanitary experiments, and the intercourse of nations. As to Religion, it is a private luxury, which a man may have if he will; but which of course he must pay for, and which he must not {67} obtrude upon others, or indulge in to their annoyance.

   The general character of this great apostasia is one and the same everywhere; but in detail, and in character, it varies in different countries. For myself, I would rather speak of it in my own country, which I know. There, I think it threatens to have a formidable success; though it is not easy to see what will be its ultimate issue. At first sight it might be thought that Englishmen are too religious for a movement which, on the Continent, seems to be founded on infidelity; but the misfortune with us is, that, though it ends in infidelity as in other places, it does not necessarily arise out of infidelity. It must be recollected that the religious sects, which sprang up in England three centuries ago, and which are so powerful now, have ever been fiercely opposed to the Union of Church and State, and would advocate the un-Christianising of the monarchy and all that belongs to it, under the notion that such a catastrophe would make Christianity much more pure and much more powerful. Next the liberal principle is forced on us from the necessity of the case. Consider {68} what follows from the very fact of these many sects. They constitute the religion, it is supposed, of half the population; and, recollect, our mode of government is popular. Every dozen men taken at random whom you meet in the streets has a share in political power,—when you inquire into their forms of belief, perhaps they represent one or other of as many as seven religions; how can they possibly act together in municipal or in national matters, if each insists on the recognition of his own religious denomination? All action would be at a deadlock unless the subject of religion was ignored. We cannot help ourselves. And, thirdly, it must be borne in mind, that there is much in the liberalistic theory which is good and true; for example, not to say more, the precepts of justice, truthfulness, sobriety, self-command, benevolence, which, as I have already noted, are among its avowed principles, and the natural laws of society. It is not till we find that this array of principles is intended to supersede, to block out, religion, that we pronounce it to be evil. There never was a device of the Enemy so cleverly framed and {69} with such promise of success. And already it has answered to the expectations which have been formed of it. It is sweeping into its own ranks great numbers of able, earnest, virtuous men, elderly men of approved antecedents, young men with a career before them.

Such is the state of things in England, and it is well that it should be realised by all of us; but it must not be supposed for a moment that I am afraid of it. I lament it deeply, because I foresee that it may be the ruin of many souls; but I have no fear at all that it really can do aught of serious harm to the Word of God, to Holy Church, to our Almighty King, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, Faithful and True, or to His Vicar on earth. Christianity has been too often in what seemed deadly peril, that we should fear for it any new trial now. So far is certain; on the other hand, what is uncertain, and in these great contests commonly is uncertain, and what is commonly a great surprise, when it is witnessed, is the particular mode by which, in the event, Providence rescues and saves His elect inheritance. Sometimes our enemy is turned into a friend; sometimes he is despoiled of that special virulence of evil which was so threatening; sometimes he falls to pieces of himself; sometimes he does just so much as is beneficial, and then is removed. Commonly the Church has nothing more to do than to go on in her own proper duties, in confidence and peace; to stand still and to see the salvation of God.

from Newman's famous "Biglietto Speech," delivered in Rome on the eve of his 1879 elevation to the College of Cardinals

Monday, September 27, 2010

Salvation by Grace Alone...

It is a fundamental doctrine of St. Paul that salvation can be acquired only by the grace merited by Christ.
 (Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Truth Proves Invincible During Papal Visit to Great Britain

The key to the Pope's success in Great Britain
By Phil Lawler,
Most of the reporters writing about the papal visit are clearly surprised by this outcome, and more than a few are betraying their disappointment. A week ago the same reporters were predicting a debacle, and some of them were relishing that prospect. The Pope would face angry protesters wherever he turned, they said. The crowds would be small and subdued. There would be empty seats at the Pope’s public appearances.  The staid, jaded secular world of Great Britain would listen skeptically, perhaps nod and clap politely, and then quickly move on to other things, dismissing the old man from Rome.
But Pope Benedict didn’t follow that script.
In every particular, the predictions were wrong. The crowds were loud and enthusiastic. The protesters were there, but even their friends in the mass media had trouble locating them among the tens of thousands who lined the streets to cheer for the passing papal motorcade, or thronged around Hyde Park to join in an evening prayer vigil. Britain’s political and intellectual leaders watched and listened carefully as the Pope spoke, and his words had an obvious impact. Prime Minister David Cameron spoke for an entire nation when, at the conclusion of the papal visit, he told the departing Pontiff that he had made Britain “sit up and think.”
Now the analysts who had predicted a disaster—or perhaps, at best, a polite irrelevancy—are struggling to explain how the Pope confounded their expectations. I think I can explain.
When they predicted an unsuccessful papal visit, analysts were basing their judgment on an assumption. They took it for granted that Pope Benedict would respond to the criticism that had dominated the British media during the last few weeks before his arrival. They assumed that the Pope would be worried about the protests and nervous about the likelihood of popular rejection. Clearly he was not.
Speaking with reporters during the flight from Rome, Pope Benedict said that he recognized anti-Catholicism as a force in Britain, but was not disturbed by it. He voiced his confidence that a deeper, stronger, fundamental commitment to the Christian heritage would also come into play. When asked how he would propose to make the Catholic Church more attractive to the people of Great Britain, he gave a surprising answer:
I would say that a Church that seeks to be particularly attractive is already on the wrong path, because the Church does not work for her own ends, she does not work to increase numbers and thus power. The Church is at the service of another: she serves, not for herself, not to be a strong body, rather she serves to make the proclamation of Jesus Christ accessible…

With those words the Holy Father was signaling that he did not intend to fulfill the analysts’ expectations. He would not be defending himself when he spoke to British audiences. He would not be worrying about how the public would perceive him. He was traveling to the United Kingdom “at the service of another,” to proclaim the truth and spread the Gospel. So his own ego was not engaged; in a sense he did not care what people thought of him. He only cared what people thought of Jesus Christ.
Pope Benedict’s personal style is quiet and ingratiating. His evident humility, and the deference with which he treats others, make it impossible for the public to continue thinking of him as the media had portrayed him. The people of Great Britain did not see a stern, rigid ideologue. They saw a mild, self-deprecating man who treated them with respect—and, because he respected them, told them the truth.
As he said several times during his visit, Pope Benedict saw Britain as a society longing for faith, thirsting for the truth. The reaction to his words proves that he was right. He offered his audiences the truths of the Catholic faith—without bombast, without polemics, but also without apology. And the crowds were fascinated.
Great Britain, clearly, is a nation searching for a sense of purpose. Once a great global empire, brimming over with a sense of moral righteousness, today the nation is uncertain about its own identity: uncertain what it means to be a British subject, or what are the fundamental principles on which British culture is founded. In religious affairs especially, the old establishment has broken down. The Church of England has lost its place as the moral authority over the nation. The Anglican communion has disintegrated into a congeries of different groups with different beliefs and different practices, held together only by their desperate determination to ignore those differences.
Human nature abhors a vacuum, and now into this vacuum of moral leadership strode Pope Benedict, proclaiming truths that might not be welcomed by a secularized audience, but must be recognized as consistent and compelling, worthy at least of some consideration—enough to make people “sit up and think.”
Writing in (of all places) the Guardian, columnist Andrew Brown took note of this clash between—as the headline of his column put it—“moral absolutes and crumbling empires.” The old Protestant ideas that had governed Great Britain for four centuries had run their course and lost their energy; now the Pope proposed a return to principles of thought that were both old and new: both a part of the British tradition from before the Reformation and a break with more recent history. “This was the end of the British Empire,” Brown said, speaking of the Pope’s address to political leaders in Westminster Hall.
(Whether he was exaggerating the importance of the papal address, time will tell. But in connecting the British Empire with the Protestant experiment, Brown was historically accurate. It was Henry VIII, the founder of the schismatic Church of England, who first defined the British crown as an imperial enterprise.)
Pope Benedict was gentle but relentless in challenging the basic ideas that sustained that distinctively Protestant imperial era. In his historic address at Westminster Hall—with every living former prime minister in attendance—the Pope suggested that St. Thomas More, who had been condemned to death in that same hall, was a model for Church-state relations. At Lambeth Palace, speaking to Anglican bishops with the Archbishop of Canterbury at his side, he proposed Blessed John Henry Newman as a model for ecumenical affairs. Now obviously if St. Thomas More was right, then King Henry was wrong to have him executed, and to break with the Holy See. If Cardinal Newman was right, then today’s Anglican prelates can make themselves right by entering the Catholic Church. The Pope did not draw out these conclusions, but his implications were inescapable.
Indeed, the impact of Pope Benedict’s message to Great Britain was heightened by the things he did not say—because he did not need to say them. In his address to Anglican prelates he did not focus on Anglicanorum Coetibus, with its bold invitation for Anglicans to enter into the Catholic Church. But surely that apostolic constitution was on the minds of the Anglican bishops who were listening as he spoke about the path to Christian unity. At Westminster Hall, when he praised the anti-slavery crusade led by William Wilberforce, he did not mention today’s battle to end abortion, but only a very dull politician would fail to notice the parallel. When he mentioned that Westminster Abbey is dedicated to St. Peter, he could rely on those who listened to realize that St. Peter’s successor was now in the building. And when he recalled the great heritage of British Christianity dating back to the times of St. Edward the Confessor and the Venerable Bede, it required very little imagination to notice that those happy days were before the split that gave rise to the Church of England.
Throughout the trip, Pope Benedict was quietly, humbly, but persistently staking a claim. He was not coming to Britain as a visitor from outside, hoping to be welcomed by the nation’s leaders. He was claiming, as St. Peter’s successor, to be the rightful moral leader of this old Christian society. He was inviting Britain to end its 400-year flirtation with Protestantism and reclaim its Catholic heritage. He was promising that a nation founded on the truths of the Catholic faith could be a prosperous, pluralistic, and successful modern society.
The Pope was making an astonishingly bold series of claims, really. He made them with disarming humility, so that his audiences did not take offense. Still the challenges were unmistakable. Now with the Pope back in Rome, a stunned British society has time to digest the papal message, to realize the implications of what he said, to sit up and think.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"Heart Speaks to Heart"

Met with a young man for lunch yesterday -- a grad student who has found himself drawn to the Catholic Church by "the splendor of Truth." (A "hard sciences" kinda guy... someone who appreciates the interplay between physics and philosophy.) He shared an observation about Protestantism which I thought was interesting. "The theological 'autonomy' is actually very isolating... I mean, every person is almost their own 'church.' "

Exactly. The inherent problem with "sola Scriptura" -- especially the contemporary understanding and use of the principle, where it is ripped out of the context of Tradition, (which not even Luther and the Lutheran reformers did) -- is that it leaves us unable to clearly and coherently and consistently interpret Scripture. When that naked "sola Scriptura" principle is then wedded to a warped understanding of "the priesthood of all believers", you end up with every guy on the street with a Bible believing he has the right to his own, private, interpretation of Scripture. As a result, instead of one Pope, you have a million "popes"... and Protestantism is the land of a million popes.

Living under the authority of a Bishop -- especially the "Bishop of Rome" -- seems to grate on our American sensibilities, but the ultimate question is this: "Is Jesus Christ Lord?" If so, we are ALL called to live under His Lordship... and if He has granted to the successors of the Apostles the right to exercise His authority in His name...

There is ONE Church... one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church... and to dissent from it is to deny the authority of the Lord of the Church.

Monday, September 20, 2010

"It is the Lord!"

“A cloud of incense was rising on high; the people suddenly all bowed low; what could it mean?  The truth flashed on him, fearfully yet sweetly; it was the Blessed Sacrament – it was the Lord Incarnate who was on the altar, who had come to visit and bless His people.  It was the Great Presence, which makes a Catholic Church different from every other place in the world, which makes it, as no other place can be – holy.”

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman,
Loss and Gain:  The Story of a Convert