Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A Response to (and Befuddlement Over) Criticisms of the Second Ecumenical Gathering at Assisi (2002) (Mark Shea)

The following thoughts were expressed on the God Talk public bulletin board. An Orthodox respondent's words are in green. Christopher Ferrara is a self-described Catholic "traditionalist" who attended, reported on the proceedings, and has taken (not surprisingly at all) an extremely negative view.

[originally uploaded by Dave Armstrong from public bulletin board postings on 6 February 2002]

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I'm having trouble figuring out what, exactly, the problem is with the whole Assisi thing.

Pope calls together a bunch of religions to agree on the need for peace. Blessed are the peacemakers, etc. I'm tracking with that.

Pope says no we're not praying together, everybody go to your own corner and pray according to the dictates of your conscience. But let's work together as we can to keep the world from going up in flames. Lumen Gentium and Unitatis Redintegratio teach this. Okay. I'm still tracking.

I'm not seeing an affirmation that "We're all really saying the same thing." Far from it, I see the same clear statement of Dominus Iesus and Lumen Gentium that in the Catholic faith alone the fullness of God's revelation subsists. Same deal on the distinction between the baptized and unbaptized. I'm still tracking.

About half the people on the list are really, really angry about all this. I'm not tracking. I haven't the time to read the whole thread. Could somebody summarize for me what the problem is? How is telling somebody at an interreligious gathering "Work with us where you can and go off and pray according to your conscience (though the Catholic revelation is the fullness of the Truth) a craven capitulation to indifferentism, but telling somebody in your city they can have a mosque or a temple or a Lutheran Church or whatever a common sense acknowledgement of human conscience and freedom? It seems to me it's all one or all the other. If it's a wonderful testament to the Church's anthropology that pagans are free to be pagans in a Catholic country, why is it a damning rebuke of the Church's leaders that they apply exactly the same principle in a Catholic meeting? I don't get it.

*** CLICK ON "Tolle, lege!" immediately below to finish this article ***

It seems to me that once the Church affirms the principle of religious liberty (as it should), it's perfectly possible to hold a meeting like Assisi which, in essence, affirms what can be affirmed in common (like "Nuclear annihilation would be bad. Terrorists should really not blow up innocent people.") and then tells the various participants "Go obey your conscience according to your religious tradition, just understand that we don't affirm the truth of that tradition when it contradicts ours because our Tradition is the fullness of what God himself has revealed." It appears to me that this is precisely what's going on at Assisi. So I'm having trouble figuring out the problem. Do the critics of Assisi also think that Lumen Gentium and Unitatis Redintegratio were bad things?

Can somebody explain to me what I'm missing?

Between the sneers and John Lennon references, the slams of the Orthodox and the slams of those wretched Novus Ordo types, I could not actually find anything going on at Assisi which was, in fact, contrary to the Tradition or the teaching of Lumen Gentium and Unitatis
Redintegratio. So I reiterate my question: Does this boil down to a rejection of the Church's teaching on religious liberty? Or am I missing something? And if the Church's teaching on religious liberty is wrong, what do critics of Assisi propose to put in its place? How should it be implemented on the ground? How far do you take the logic of a rejection of religious liberty? Vatican II urges common prayer where possible.

During the 40s, of course, Jews were housed in Catholic facilities, including the Vatican. They were permitted to pray there. Was this also a shocking betrayal of the uniqueness of the faith and a capitulation to indifferentism? If not, why not? If Jews can pray on Church property without it meaning "we're really saying the same thing" why can't the delegates to Assisi? - especially after the Pope explicitly says repeatedly, "We're not praying together and we're not really saying the same thing?" What's so magical about being on Church property after a disclaimer like that?

I'm still having trouble figuring out the actual problem.

I don't argue with that on the level of canons and whether it is legal or justifiable, etc. My questions have to do with expediency rather than lawfulness (which may distinguish me from Ferrara).

I think it does. One gets the impression that Ferrara, in some fever dream of canon law, has detected something unlawful. But it's hard to tell since Ferrara piece was, in essence, a protracted sneer, written in the tone of one for whom Assisi was so self-evidently wrong that he never seemed to me to have gotten round to telling me why it was wrong. It reminded me of the tone of some anti-Catholic polemicists (as arch-Traditionalists often do) who seem to think that merely mentioning that a Designated Bad Guy says something proves that it is false. For myself, I found that when all the sneers had been waded through, I couldn't yet detect what was actually wrong with Assisi other than that it reminded Ferrara of the 60s or something.

Nor do I sweat bullets of horror because a bishop is allowing himself to sit quietly and listen to someone else's opinion. That can be a witness of humility to those with eyes to see it I suppose.

Good for you for saying that!

But what about questions such as ...

"to what am I bearing witness if I am present at this event?"..."How will my fellow Orthodox understand this witness? How do I want them to understand it? How will I communicate that meaning?"..."How will other non-Orthodox Christians understand my presence here? How do I want them to understand it? How will I reinforce the communication of the correct interpretation?"..."How will a secular world interpret this? How do I want them to understand this? How will I reinforce that understanding in the secular world?"

To all those questions I've given an answer: the answer John Paul II supplied. Namely, I understood the meeting to be a meeting aiming, not toward affirming the interchangeableness of all religions, but toward the specific goal of civil peace in a world threatened by war and violence on an unprecedented scale. The meeting seems to me to affirm what can be affirmed in common among religions (i.e. Mass murder is bad. Civil peace is good). It did not in the slightest give anybody license to suppose the Church was relinquishing the claims to uniqueness it affirmed and continues to affirm in Dominus Iesus. So what's the problem? "People might misunderstand" So what? They misunderstood Jesus in John 6 too. Is that a reason for avoiding speaking a complex and subtle truth?

When Orthodox Christians go to an Orthodox Church and pray "for the peace of the whole world" there is no question as to what is being witnessed to, it is the peace of Christ which passes all understanding. What is the picture of this peace? Is it the joy on the face of the
well-educated school child who is reading on schedule and has completed his Hep B vaccination series on time and just got out of school for Christmas break and is going skiing with mummy and daddy in Vale?

This is caricature. The choice Assisi is addressing is not simply between the joy of the martyrs and the comfy cushiness of a spoiled yuppy. It is between a world of millions of burnt corpses and one in which human beings have something of a fighting chance of surviving long enough to hear the gospel. It quite frankly astonishes me to hear such a bare minimum call for justice equated with "utopianism" and dismissed as unattainable and foolish. Having one's mind on the world to come (as the prophets surely did) is not a reason to abandon the call for common justice.

Or is it the silent source of tears of transformation shed in gulags, the sweet grace in the heart of one drawing her last breath in a battle with cancer trusting in God to redeem her out of all her troubles, or the ecstasy on the face of a bloody martyr shining like an angel?

The Church certainly does not deny that God's grace can bless the martyr. It merely goes on saying that, though Maximilien Kolbe became a saint at Auschwitz, this does not mean that Auschwitz ought not be opposed.

These two visions are not the same thing at all and the world and sadly many Christians know only the former. The type of peace that can be delivered by technology, education and good government. One is utopian and worldly and ultimately meaningless apart from Christ. The other is everything worth living and dying for. Do these gatherings teach this to those who don't know?

As I say, I find this simply incredible that you should ask this. Cancer can lead people through suffering to Christ. Therefore, to seek a cure for cancer is "utopian and worldly and ultimately meaningless apart from Christ". Granted that, "apart from Christ" it's utopian and worldly. But what about with Christ? Thousands of Catholic hospitals are not testament to utopianism, but to the common sense Christian mission to prevent evil, cure sickness, and do good. The attempt to find some way in which to prevent the evil of war is and expression of the same mission. "But war is inevitable." Fine. So is cancer. So is illness, and traffic accidents, and all the other problems of this world. But to declare that an attempt to stop them is "utopian" is simply unfathomable to me.

Christians should give cups of cold water, but if they are to do it in Jesus' name they need to bear witness to the story of Jesus; the story of God become man, who for the love of man accepted sin, death and every affliction of the evil one on himself that we might know a peace
from the communion of His very life; this life that can never be found in the so called peace of this world. The desire that "Nation not lift up sword against nation" translates to the godless yearning for the tower of Babel more easily than a Godly longing for the New Jerusalem.

And, of course, there is quite literally no voice anywhere on the world stage or at any time in human history that has borne witness to Jesus Christ to more people than that of John Paul II. Quite literally no one has spoken of Jesus Christ and the truth of the Christian faith to more people than he has. Ever. It is quite amazing to me that all that is suddenly forgotten because of Assisi, even though John Paul makes it crystal clear that only in Christ is peace and the fullness of truth found and that other religions are not affirmed as being just as true as Catholic Faith.

The world doesn't understand this, and hanging around in robes bearing witness to a common desire to avoid nuclear annihilation is a confusing message at best, just as good to send my plumber on my behalf as a bishop for that statement. Don't carry out the Gospel book to an event if you think you are bearing witness to the utopian vision shared with everyone else, only carry out the gospel if you are ready to tell someone how their vision is a pile of dung without the Lord.

This is, once again, the "don't speak or act if somebody might misunderstand" approach, which gets nothing done. The Pope, of all people, is almost uniquely aware of the difference between utopianism and Christian faith (he's lived under two utopian systems). He's written extensively on the impossibility of utopian schemes. The Catechism he promulgates specifically warns (#676): "The Antichrist's deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgement. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism,[Cf. DS 3839.] especially the 'intrinsically perverse' political form of a secular messianism. [Pius XI, Divini
Redemptoris, condemning the 'false mysticism' of this 'counterfeit of the redemption of the lowly'; cf. GS 20-21.]"

So I think it extremely unlikely that he now imagines that the goal is a secular utopia of religious leaders singing Kumbaya. Rather, I think it obvious he is acting on the sensible counsel of Lumen Gentium to work in common with people of good will for what can be achieved while, of
course, not sacrificing the truth that the Church's revelation is - alone - the fullness of God's revelation.

Ignorant people can sure think stupid things. They did the same thing when Jesus said we had to eat his Body and Blood. So what? There will never be a shortage of people who think Jesus said "Blessed are the cheesemakers". The question is not "What will clueless people think?" The question is, "Is this what the Church is really saying?" It is obvious to me that the Church has changed not a jot of its teaching but is simply implementing that teaching, affirming what can be affirmed ("a peaceful civil society is good and all men of good will should say so"), continuing to deny what must be denied ("Catholic faith is interchangeable with any other religious tradition") and making that clear by, among other things, refusing to pray in common with non-Christians.

Finally, as to the list of what the Clueless might think, I actually think that the most egregiously stupid thing on the list is this:

What kind of ratings could I get if I broadcast this whole shabang live in prime time? Do you think we could get a couple big sponsors and have U2 do an intro? Who does the Pope's make-up?

I don't think anybody but the archest of a tiny knot of arch-conservative Catholics thinks that John Paul II's motivation is the hungry desire for face time on TV. The charge is preposterous on it's face. Clueless people may well misunderstand Assisi (as they misunderstand John 6). But it takes a special sort of will to condemn to see in that humble man the sort of preening vanity and need for TV exposure that one would associate with Geraldo Rivera or Jerry Springer.

How does all this advance the cause of Christ in the world? Who knows, I sure don't.

Oh, much the same way, the Pope's labors for peace during the depths of World Wars I and II might. I remain baffled at how a Christian can see the struggle to keep millions og people from being incinerated, poisoned or plagued as, first and foremost, something sinister while working extra hard to not hear the obvious and clear calls that this struggle not be taken as an affirmation of indifferentism.

The Pope's action here seems to me to be a no-brainer: work with people of good will to stop millions from getting killed. Make clear that this common effort does not mean all religions are the same and that our faith is not the full revelation of God. This he has done. I still am stunned that somebody would have a cow about this. Maybe people will think differently after nukes in suitcases go off in New York, Paris, and London. I dunno.

Or, more likely, 50 years from now somebody will be complaining that John Paul II was "bin Laden's Pope" for failing to advocate the extermination of the Islamic world.

There was no prayer with heretics, much less pagans. There was, it appears, prayer with other Christians and no common prayer with non-Christians, as far as I could see.

Christians raised in other traditions are not, by the Church's lights, "heretics" (see Unitatis Redintegratio).

"Religious involvement" with pagans is a rather fuzzy term that elides my point: how do you apply religious liberty on the ground? The Church specifically refused common prayer. What else should it do?

Ferrara is . . . the guy who was at bat for Gerry Matatics during his odd sojourn among the Traditionalist dissenting folks. His tone and attitude certainly are what I've encountered in that uniformly unpleasant and unhappy sector of Catholicism. He has the quality of those
sectarians who are all in on the code and who all snort in union when you say the wrong word ("Heh! John Paul II!" is the common snort among those guys, sort of like "Heh! Evidentialist!" is a common snort in another sector of Christianity or "Heh! Protestant!" in the Fortress Catholicism wing). Once you've uttered a Disapproved Word, you're a marked man, one of Them. Conversation among such folks has (as Ferrara's piece has) the tendency to proceed as though the thing to be proven was proven merely by mentioning that a Disapproved Person was for/against it. John Paul II convened Assisi, ergo it's stupid (guffaw, wink, snort). And if you ask, "But what, Mr. Ferrara, was wrong with the meeting?" you get the sense that the answer is a nudge in the ribs of his fellow Angry Trads, a whispered "Get a load of him!" and your name marked down as another in the cohort of Them who Ain't Us.

I remain baffled about what, in the content of Ferrara's protracted sneer, actually shows the Church was doing something wrong, contrary to the Tradition, or unbiblical. So far, the closest I've seen a real argument is "Ignorant people might misunderstand John Paul II's action." That's pretty lame as an actual criticism.

The Crusades and World War II: An Instructive Ethical Analogy (Mark Shea)

The following exchanges took place on Steve Ray's public bulletin board, on 28-29 February 2000. The words of a person ("Walt") who vigorously disagreed with Mark shall be in green. Words of other persons shall be in brown.

[originally edited and uploaded on 17 March 2000, from public list posts, with the permission of Mark Shea]

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How does one defend Catholicism in view of the Crusades and its slaughter?

How do you defend the Allied assault on continental Europe during World War II? Oh sure, you will say that Europe was occupied territory dominated by a foreign power, but does that really justify the sorts of atrocities, civilian deaths, and often racism that characterized so much Allied activity? I mean, just look at the fire bombing of Dresden. Just look at our neglect to bomb the rail lines to Auschwitz. Just look at our neglect of the Warsaw Uprising Reprisals. Just look at the mass slaughter of innocent people at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Not only that, we hypocritically entered into an alliance with Stalin, one of the greatest butchers in history, to press our "just war" effort against Hitler. So obviously, there is no way at all to justify the so-called "Allied Cause." The whole thing must have been an entirely self-serving hypocritical effort with a thin veneer of "God and country" painted over it to give it a semblance of piety.

Please read this description of WWII carefully several times and then replace "WWII" with "the Crusades" and Hitler with "Saladin" to get some sense of the way a medieval European would regard the assumptions at the back of your question. The Crusades involved nasty slaughter because war usually does this. There were terrible crimes committed during the Crusades just as there there were terrible crimes committed by the Allies. But the Crusades were fundamentally seen by Europeans as a defensive war to liberate Christian lands from Muslim oppression, just as WWII was seen as a defensive war to liberate Europe from Nazi oppression. (Not for nothing did Eisenhower entitle his memoirs Crusade in Europe). It is also worth noting that Muslim conquest proceeded to gobble up all of Christian North Africa and Spain, as well as make it as far as Vienna. The last major assault on Christendom was in 1689. For some reason, Europe regarded Islam as a hostile power and sent troops to try to stop the conquest and roll it back.

We, who just watched our planes blow up Serbs to "liberate" Kosovo have little room to wring our hands.

*** CLICK ON "Tolle, lege!" immediately below to finish this article ***


Come on, Mark -- you can't compare the Byzantine Emperor -- or even Saladin -- with Hitler.

Sure I can. Both were occupying powers seen as a threat to Europe. I don't mean that Saladin was a genocidal maniac. But I do mean that Islam posed the gravest military threat to a Europe already surrounded by military threats (from Norsemen and Magyars too).

My point is that modernity has somehow gotten the idea that the Crusades were wars of conquest against happy Arab nomads who were minding their own business. In fact, they were seen as wars of liberation against an invader who not only conquered but imposed an alien religion (and, it should be noted, a heretical religion in the eyes of medievals. Mohammed was perceived, even by Dante, as a Christian heretic, not as a heathen).

Would you care to demonstrate that the Crusades met all the requirements for a "just war"?

I don't claim they did. What I am trying to show is that the Crusades were seen by those prosecuting them as a legitimate defense against a mortal threat.

Why is it so difficult for Christians to admit that individual Christians in the past have done some remarkably foolish and evil things, sometimes with the knowledge, sometimes the permission, or even sometimes with the encouragement of the institutional Church?

I did acknowledge that. I think the slaughter of Jews in the Rhineland was every bit as reprehensible as the bombing of Dresden. I simply do not say that this was "all there really was" to the Crusades or to the Allied effort. Most people that post questions such as the one that started this thread are people who have almost no actual knowledge of the enormous complexities behind the Crusades. There is a cartoon history at work in most American minds which goes something like:

The Pope was corrupt and decided he wanted land. He whipped people into a fervor with tent meetings and attacked the peaceful Arab nomads. Greedy kings and dumb peasants signed up for this in the hope of spoils. The attack failed, but not before a lot of innocent people were tortured for fun by evil Catholics. Then some other stuff happened like the Inquisition and the Black Death (caused by unsanitary dumb medievals who were 700 years stupider than us smart people). Then the Reformation happened and everybody learned to read and its been leading up to us ever since.
Sorry. But this sort of cartoonish Whig history is omnipresent in a huge number of American heads. It is this I am trying to challenge a bit. I do not mean to equate Hitler and Saladin. But I do mean to show that something ("the Crusades involved unjust slaughter") needs to be considered in making a historical judgement.

Except at the time of the Crusades the Turks did not occupy Europe, as Hitler did.

No. They occupied eastern Christendom.

So why did you play the "Hitler card"?

I pointed to WWII in order to show that people who see themselves as fighting wars of liberation can still do evil things like Dresden (or the slaughter of the Rhineland Jews), yet believe their cause basically just. The nearest historical experience of a big menacing occupying power with which an American can identify is Festung Europa, so I pointed to it as an analog.

How did the sack of Christian Byzantium protect Europe against a Turkish - or even an Islamic - threat?

It didn't. It was a shameful act and I did not defend it, just as I do not defend the slaughter in the Rhineland. However, if I were to ask "how did the bombing of Dresden protect against a German threat?" one would be justified in saying I was not really portraying the full scope of what the Allies believed themselves to be trying to accomplish in the European theatre. The betrayal of Constantinople, like the betrayal of Poland and the eastern countries by the Allies, was indefensible. But is was not all there was to the Crusades.

If you want to say that there was a turf war in the Levant, go ahead and do so.

I don't. I want to say that the Muslim-occupied eastern lands were historically Christian and were conquered by a power that gave a good college try at taking the rest of Europe with them. I don't think it simply "foolish and evil" that Europe resisted that college try.

But don't play the "Hitler card," and don't pretend that there was any great moral purpose to the Crusades.

In many cases there was. In many cases there wasn't. Sort of like the Allied lack of moral purpose in betraying Poland and the rest of the east to Stalin. On the whole, I think WWII a necessary, if not a "just" war. And I do not think the necessity (and in many cases, nobility) of that war is obliterated by the fact that in a number of cases, we acted with tremendous immorality.

Once again, I bring up the Rhenish Jews, and Byzantium - which scarcely posed a "moral threat" to Europe.

As I say, I don't defend these crimes. I merely point out that they do not constitute the whole story any more than the betrayal of Poland and the slaughter at Dresden are the summation of the Allied story.

The fact is that the Church of its day was deeply involved in the politics of the Crusaders.

Of course it was. And much of it was corrupt. I don't deny that for a moment. I merely point out that much of the Allied politics was deeply corrupt too, and yet still I think the war necessary. The Crusaders felt the same way.

The Middle East, and the world in general, would be a lot better off if the Church were to make its apologies for its past sins without qualifications that the times were different, and they weren't the only ones.

You should read First Things this month.

That, at least, appears to behind much of John Paul II's attempts to come to grips with the Church's past.

I have already made clear that I don't think the Crusades (or the Inquisition or any of the other blots on the Church's record) are simply and purely excusable. I think real inexcusable sins were committed for which it is our task to do penance. The death of a single innocent person is, quite literally, sin enough for the whole Church. But though I do not think it all excusable, I do think that any sensible assessment of such a huge historical phenomenon as the Church requires a bit of historical perspective.

Contrary to your dismissal of my sketch of cartoon history, a huge number of Americans are indeed profoundly historically illiterate and really do have just such a cartoonish view of the complexities of history. A huge number of people really do believe we are just 800 years smarter than those dumb people who lived in the Dark Ages. My point is not to justify crimes. It is to show that crimes have always been committed in the midst of a human race that thinks (and sometimes occassionally even attempts) to do what is best and make the best of a bad job. However, even that attempt is often rare and much evil is done, not by people "doing their best" but by people who are frankly selfish and evil, including Catholics. Life is complex.

Who knows (and I do not) - perhaps were it not for what the Crusaders did to Byzantium, the Abbot of St. Catherine's on Mt. Sinai might have actually been willing to pray with the one he styled as "the president of the Roman Catholic Church."

I think you are right. The jerks that sacked Constantinople destroyed, right up to the present, the chance of reunion in Christ's Eastern and Western Church. It is not the least of their crimes. But it is also not the only thing that happened in the Crusades.

A simple "I should not have compared Saladin and Hitler" would have sufficed, Mark.

No. It won't. I compared them. I did not equate them. I think you can understand the difference between an analogy and an equation, can't you?

Historically Christian? Palestine was "Christian" from the 4th century CE (that is, the time of Constantine) until the the Arab conquest in the 7th century CE.

Which, to the medieval mind, was nearly half the lifetime of the church. If the United States were occupied by a foreign power, I doubt most Americans would be soothed by your saying, "Hey, the United States has only been here for two centuries. It's not like this turf is historically American."

Maybe "just war theory" ought to be jettisoned, truth sacrificed for the sake of expediency.

Your words. Not mine. I merely point out that in the real world war has seldom conformed itself to either just war theory or any other sort of theory. Both the Crusades and WWII are examples of this.

Which illiteracy you encourage by comparing Saladin to Hitler.

No. By comparing the actions of one morally ambiguous alliance in response to an occupying power to the actions of a similarly morally ambiguous alliance in response to another occupying power. You are working extremely hard not to see my point. I don't equate Saladin with Hitler just as I don't equate General Sherman with Hitler. But if I am trying to show how a Southerner perceived the threat of an invader to an historically illiterate audience, I have to begin with the experience of which that audience is mostly likely to be able to grasp at least something.

Hitler they have heard of; "Saladin" calls for the response, "What kind of dressing do you want on it?"

Or, unless they are entirely lacking in curiosity, the commonsense response, "Who?"

But if you wanted to provide an "analogy" for Saladin, it would have been his friend and contemporary, Richard the Lion Hearted.

About whom most moderns know nothing. My point (and I will say it again) is not "Islam=Nazism" but "Here's how cultures respond to a perceived invading threat if they can muster the arms to do so."

In that way, the "historically illiterate" would have realized that Saladin was an honorable man - as honorable as any of his opponents in battle.

Something I never denied. Indeed, Saladin was often more honorable than the Crusaders. If it comes to that, Rommel was, on the whole, a far better man than Bomber Harris, who orchestrated Dresden. That does not, however, negate the fact that in both "Crusades" Europe saw itself as threatened by an invading power. That has been my only point.

I find it easier to believe that four cops were threatened by an unarmed guy in the Bronx than that Europe was in any mortal danger from the Turks in the 12th and 13th centuries.

The Spanish, North Africa and Eastern Church saw the problem differently.

Your argument works equally well as a Buchananite argument against American involvement in the European theatre during WWII. What danger did Hitler really pose to the US? His entire self-revelation in Mein Kampf made it clear his ambitions looked east to the Ukraine, not across the Atlantic. So there was no problem and no need for us to get involved! I had no idea you and he were so similar in your thinking. :)

Like I say, war is complex. A medieval Europe pressed by Norsemen, Magyars and Islam felt itself threatened and reacted. It was neither purely evil nor purely noble in doing so. Your attempt to appeal simply and solely to the Sack of Constantinople and the Rhineland slaughters is as monochromatic dumb apologia as some Catholics pretending they never happened. The Crusades were fought by sinners. But they were also fought by saints. Complex phenomena are like that. And the first Crusade was a different thing than the wars following it, just as the cynicism of Vietnam was, in a certain sense, a corrosion of the very things that made WWII defensible.

Mark's point was that the Crusades are often oversimplified into a jaunt for Western Imperialism.

No, Mark was trying to compare the Crusades with World War II and, in the process, making a perfectly foolish comparison between Hitler and Saladin.

No. Michael's right. My point is that the Crusades are often oversimplified into a jaunt for Western Imperialism. My secondary point was that Christendom, for some reason, felt itself menaced as it watched the east, then North Africa, then Spain fall to Islamic armies. So it launched what it clearly regarded as a defensive war, not a war of imperialism.

The nearest historical experience of a defensive war to the minds of most average Americans is WWII, so I used it as an analogy to show that the Crusades were seen by many of the the people prosecuting them as something more than merely cynical military exercises.

My final point was that those who prosecuted them were capable of seeing them in this way despite the sack of Constantinople and the Rhineland massacres, just as the Allies were capable of thinking their cause to be, on the whole, right despite the atrocities of Dresden, and Nagasaki and the betrayal of Poland.

These elementary points are not written to justify the evils committed by the Crusades. Nor are they written to equate Saladin's character with Hitler's. They are merely written to help people who can follow an elementary analogy to see that when people feel themselves to be threated by an invading military power that appears to be bent on conquest, they react remarkably like people whether in the 13th century or the 20th.

I have not identified the Crusades with "Western Imperialism."

I did not say you had and you know it. I said "Many people do" and framed my initial response to this thread in light of that fact.

There was nothing comparable to the sack of Constantinople in WW II.

My point (and I think you are smart enough to realize this too) is not that there was an incident in WWII comparable to the sack of Constantinople in historical details, but that, just as there were crimes committed by the Allies in WWII that did not render the Allied effort simply an exercise in hypocrisy (at least in the eyes of the Allies), so there were crimes committed by the Crusaders that did not necessarily render the entire enterprise a complete exercise in sin and nothing but sin. Dresden was as morally revolting as the sack of Constantinople. The Allies entered the war to "save" Poland and ended by betraying it (just as the Crusaders entered the Crusades to "save" Constantinople and betrayed it). Yet that's not the sum total of the story of either conflict. And I think you can see that point too.

But you keep forcing your analogy to avoid the simple truth that you have not established your point - that the Crusades were not a defensive war, that Western Europe north of the Pyrenees was not threatened by either the Muslims or the Turks.

Nor was North America in WWII threatened by Germany. Yet, strangely, we felt a sympathy with the oppressed peoples of Europe. True, we did not carry out this sense of empathy without ambiguity: we stabbed Poland in the back and ended by betraying the very peoples we had entered the war to "save." Yet our prosecution of the war was not without its sense of moral crusade. Strangely, the Christians of the medieval west, for all their moral ambiguity about their treatment of the east, did feel themselves to be defending Christian lands against an invader.

As I say, your argument works equally well as a Buchananite tract against American involvement in WWII.

Would you care to explain again how the Crusades were a defensive war?

I've made my relatively simple point. I did not equate Hitler and Saladin, I made clear that I was simply answering the simplistic notion of western imperialism implicit in the original question.

Have you any conception of how galling it is for an eastern Christian to read:

In fact, the Church of Rome is the only N.T. Church which really survived and thrived apart from the Islamic onslaught.

Since it was western Christians who sacked Constantinople and weakened it (paving the way for conquest a couple of centuries later)? Just as I reject Walt's tendency toward monochromatic blackwashing of the Crusades, so I emphatically reject the monochromatic whitewashing here. Real evil was committed by the Crusaders many times. And one of the most egregious instances was the western sack of Constantinople. To not only pretend it never happened but to pour salt in the wound and blame the eastern Church (plus vaunt the Roman church's survival as some sort of crypto-mark of divine favor) is just as repugnant as Walt's blackwashing.

Second, when you write...

Once again, you bring up the Crusades only because you are an anti-Catholic propagandist and hypocrite...

do you do so with any conception of the actual motives of the person who posted the question? Or are you engaging in mind-reading? Might it not be that the guy who posted the question simply doesn't have a clue about the Crusades and is asking because he really wants to know? Unless you know this guy and know him to have a history as a Catholic baiter, what earthly good does a reply like yours do? And if you do know him to be a Catholic baiter, wouldn't it be better to point out that he has asked the question before and is being disingenous to ask it again if he has already received reasonable answers in the past? Not every person scandalized by the Crusades or the Inquisition is simply an incarnation of evil bent on destroying the Church. Most people just want to know what's going on.

And if Mark wants to compare and contrast the Crusades and WW II to identify the way in each meets the "rigorous" conditions which the Roman Catholic Church requires for a morally licit war, then he, too, will have reason to make the two analogous.

Walt, you are, once again, being dishonest. As I made abundantly clear, I was not setting out to argue either that the Crusades or, for that matter, WWII were blueprints for a Just War. In fact, I think I made it pretty clear that I think there are real problems with both conflicts from a Just War perspective. It is you, not I, who have been insisting that I am trying to make a case for the Crusades as a just war. My only purpose (and gee I've been saying this a lot) was to show to a modern reader something of the complexity and ambiguity that faces us when we try to apply a cartoon "Crusades as western imperialism" template to the Crusades. I have tried to give a bit of a picture of how it looked to medieval Europeans to a reader who appeared to me to have not a clue about why Europe thought the Crusades a good idea at the time. This does not constitute a brief for the Crusades as a just war.

That guy brought up the Crusades, rather than other wars, for one reason only: No Protestants were involved and he wants to bash Catholicism.

Do you know this for a fact or are you simply mind-reading? If I had come to this board 15 years ago, I might well have asked a very similar question, not because I was "bashing Catholicism" but because I was attracted to Catholicism yet fearful that I was being sold a bill of goods by an institution with some serious skeletons in its closet. So. Do you in fact know anything about the guy that asked the question? Or are you simply practicing clairvoyance in declaring that he is writing to bash? This board is, after all, here for the purpose of answering people's questions about the faith. If someone asks an honest question, they deserve an answer, not a rebuke based on mind-reading.

Again, I'm getting tired of your preaching to me.

Tough. If you are a Catholic on this board claiming to try to speak on behalf of Holy Church, you have a duty to do your best and not just slap down honest questions with clairvoyant and accusing answers. If you post things that embarrass me as a Catholic I will complain. If it is my duty to point out when Walt is being dishonest and twisting words against the Church, it is equally my duty to point it out when a Catholic is doing these things "for" the Church. Walt has been accusing me of trying to paint the Crusades as a "just war" (something I have never said). If I stand by while you attempt to do exactly the whitewash that Walt accuses me of doing, I am implying consent by silence.

I think the Crusades are understandable. I also think much of the Crusades (and much of WWII) were immoral. I do not think that someone who is scandalized by the Crusades is just being malicious toward the Church. Your post essentially says that is the only conceivable reason anyone would be scandalized. It is as wrong-headed as Walt's claim that any attempt to set the Crusades in historical context is "dumbed-down apologetics" that seeks to paint the Crusades as a Just War. So I oppose you both. It's what you have to put up with if you hold forth publicly on the matter and take the positions you do.

I am not being dishonest. My point is that you made an "analogy" where none exists.

Funny. Several others [understood what I meant]. It really is possible to say "Crusaders and the Allies saw themselves fighting a defensive war" without claiming a) they were absolutely right, b) they were fighting a Just War or c) the two Foes were identical in all (or any) respects beyond being percieved as invading threats.

All the fog about how I am trying to paint either conflict as adhering to Just War doctrine is simply fog. I have never asserted it because, in the case of the Crusades, I do not believe it and, in the case of WWII there is some real ambiguity as well.

I don't know of a single person on this thread who claimed that the Crusades were "western imperialism." You appear to be arguing with someone who is not here.

Lots of people have a view of the Crusades that includes this and many other cartoonish notions. The very fact that the question was phrased as it was strongly indicated that the questioner held something like this cartoonish view of history. My purpose was to sketch some of the other factors he may have overlooked.

And you did so by providing a false - and infallamatory analogy, without giving any information why you regard the Crusades and WW II as being "analagous" - other than the fact that, in your opinion, the Crusaders thought they were fighting a "defensive war." Were they right, or were they wrong - or doesn't it make any difference to you?

Walt, this is simply nonsense. As I have repeatedly said, my aim was to show that both were morally conflicted alliances mounted against a percieved invading threat and that, just as the sins of the Allies did not constitute the whole story of WWII so the sins of the Crusaders did no constitute the whole story of the Crusades. That was my sole point. I do not thereby declare the Crusades just.

CCC 2309 requires a war to be just, if it is to be morally licit.

That's nice. But it has nothing to do with why I wrote. I am not trying to argue the Crusades were just because I don't think they were (as I have already said). I am merely writing here as someone with an interest in history who thought it would be good to strike a blow against the cartoon history of the Crusades that seemed undergird the question at the beginning of this thread.

You cannot discuss the Crusades within the context of Catholic moral theology without discussing whether or not it meets the rigorous conditions required for a "just war."

True. And if I was attempting to do that, I would have said so. But I wasn't. I was simply pointing out the small and obvious fact that the Crusades were perceived by the Crusaders as a defensive war and that the evils committed therein were not understood by medieval Europeans as fundamentally discrediting to their cause. It was a very simple point really.

That was, after all, the original question: How can one support a Church which supports wars like the Crusades?

Yes. And my answer was to ask if the questioner had really thought about his question carefully. It was not to argue that the Crusades were a totally just conflict.

I've made my small and simple point. The Crusades were morally ambiguous, not the mere "slaughter" the original poster thought them to be. It was my only point. This is email and I have a life. I was not attempting to write a full dress history of the Crusades replete with a ten volume discussion of Catholic moral theology. My purpose was to provoke a small amount of cerebral activity in the original questioner by suggesting a startling analogy that he may not have thought about.

It had never occurred to me, as you early on pointed out about the ambiguities of the Allied actions, that the Allies could simply have bombed the railroad tracks to Auschwitz.

They also could have refused to engineer the bloodbath at Dresden, protested Stalin's facilitation of the massacre in Warsaw, not bombed Nagasaki, not interned all the Japanese, not betrayed Poland and the eastern countries, not had racially segregated armies, and not engaged in ethnic cleansing of western Poland after the war. There are a number of serious black marks on the Allied record that we seldom hear about because we were the Good Guys.

C.S. Lewis and Catholicism (Iain T. Benson)

Iain T. Benson is Executive Director: Centre for Cultural Renewal [Bowen Island, British Columbia, Canada]. This is derived from a paper delivered to the Oxford University C.S. Lewis Society: Pusey House, Oxford, May 11, 2001.

[originally typeset and uploaded on 28 January 2002, with the author's permission]

C.S. Lewis's words will be in green; words of Lewis scholars will be in purple.

*****

The topic "CS Lewis and Catholicism" might seem to some to be unnecessary. Of course, they would say, "C.S.Lewis was a member of the Church of England, why would we want to discuss him in relation to the Catholic Church?" As a writer who has devoted an entire book to this theme once put it:

[Asking about Lewis' views of Catholicism] is not like asking why Winston Churchill never became a Mormon, or why Picasso dissented from the views of the Plymouth Brethren.

(Christopher Derrick, C.S. Lewis and the Church of Rome, San Francisco: Ignatius, 1981, p. 11)

Before turning to discuss Lewis' views I must first note two admonitions that appear in the Preface to Mere Christianity (London: Bles, 1952) and that apply with particular force to a paper such as this to a society such as this.

[first] Our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is His only Son… [and second] I should be very glad if people would not draw fanciful inferences from my silence on certain disputed matters.

I will return to this question of Lewis' silence on certain matters in a moment but at this point would like to note that as one who has had a passionate devotion to everything Lewisian since I became a Christian in my teens, partly in response to reading his works, and who is conscious that he is delivering this paper before a learned audience in the very town in which Lewis became famous, these admonitory phrases have particular weight.

*** CLICK ON "Tolle, lege!" immediately below to finish this article ***


I shall attempt to honour Mr. Lewis' wishes and not draw fanciful inferences from his silence on certain disputed matters. It is true he was silent about the claims of the Roman Catholic Church and his few references to the Church offer glimpses into his thought but as you will hear what follows we are left to ponder his silences within the context of his overall aim to develop Mere Christianity.

Despite this silence or reticence, I argue that it is important to consider Lewis in relation to Roman Catholicism for several reasons:

1) because Lewis’ most famous Christian apologetic work - Mere Christianity claims to be a description of Christianity that all baptized Christians would accept;

2) because Lewis was one of the foremost apologists of the 20th Century (the other in his category being G.K. Chesterton) and what Lewis said about the nature of the Church or "churches" touches on the understanding that many Christians will have about the nature and meaning of the Church or "churches."

3) Because Lewis believed "division" amongst Christians to be a scandal it is important to try and understand what directions he perceived towards unity.

The “Mere Christianity” Thesis:

Key to understanding Lewis’ views is the set of assumptions built into the approach he sets out in Mere Christianity. In the Preface to the first edition on the question of his silence on certain points, Lewis notes:

For example, such silence need not mean that I myself am sitting on the fence. Sometimes I am. There are questions at issue between Christians to which I do not think we have been told the answer. There are some to which I may never know the answer: if I asked them in a better world, I might (for all I know) be answered as a far greater questioner was answered: "what is that to thee? Follow thou Me". But there are other questions as to which I am definitely on one side of the fence and yet say nothing.

Now this is a very clever set of fences that C.S. Lewis has erected with respect to matters on which he is "silent." It makes it impossible to determine from silence whether he thinks a matter important or irrelevant, agrees with it or disagrees with it or has no particular view of the matter. His silence therefore is enigmatic and he intends it to be so. He clearly wishes us to focus only on those matters he does discuss. So what is not discussed is beyond discussion - at least in terms of Mere Christianity. Again, in the Preface, he states his purpose:

For I was not writing to expound something I could call "my religion" but to expound "mere" Christianity, which is what it is and what it was long before I was born and whether I like it or not [vii].

He gives as an example of something that is left out, any mention of the Blessed Virgin Mary. A similar unwillingness to address specific religious positions such as the role of Mary in the economy of salvation is visible in his response to correspondents as well. Here is what he says in Mere Christianity:

[To say more about the Blessed Virgin Mary] would take me into highly controversial regions….Oddly enough you cannot even conclude from my silence on disputed points, either that I think them important or that I think them unimportant. For this is itself one of the disputed points. One of the things that Christians are disagreed about is the importance of their disagreements. When two Christians of different denominations start arguing, it is usually not long bfore one asks whether such and such a point "really matters" and the other replies: "Matter? Why it’s absolutely essential."….[About my own beliefs] …"they are written in the Common Prayer Book." [viii]

To avoid the danger of putting forward as "common Christianity" what was a peculiarly C of E or CSL version he sent the original script of Book 2 of Mere Christianity (“What Christians Believe”) to four clergymen, Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and RC. Walter Hooper in C.S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide (London: Harper, 1996 at p. 307; hereinafter Companion), notes that the Catholic was Dom Bede Griffiths, who had been a pupil and friend of Lewis' and who had converted to Catholicism the same year (1931) that Lewis became a Christian (see, Companion, p. 670 ff.). Lewis noted that, "The RC thought I had gone rather too far about the comparative unimportance of theories in explanation of the Atonement, otherwise all five of us agreed."

For Lewis' claim is that there are a core set of beliefs which are acceptable. As GKC once said, "all roads lead to Rome which is one reason why many people never get there." Walter Hooper entitled one of the volumes of C.S. Lewis’ diaries "all My Road Before me". It is not clear whether this is the kind of road Chesterton meant, but it is clear that Lewis never got to Rome, if indeed, Rome had any relevance for him at all.

This paper is an attempt to raise some questions on that theme. GKC also, famously, said that there are three stages to conversion to Catholicism: First, realizing that what many say about the Catholic Church is untrue; Second, defending the Catholic Church against unjust attacks; third, running away from the Church.

Could we use this framework for analyzing Lewis and Catholicism? Could we find in Lewis' oeuvre such categories? I think not. While we can certainly identify a Lewis who says positive things about Catholics and Catholicism, is this the same as "defending the Church against unjust attacks?" Not really. Can we say that Lewis is in any clear way "running away from the Church?" Again, not really.

What we do see in Lewis, as I've set out above, is avoidance by design. He sets out, from the beginning, that he does not wish to focus on what divides or is "controversial" but on what unites Christians. This is, as he says, borrowing from Baxter, "mere Christianity." But note how that first commitment is itself a statement about one major claim that one would have thought central to questions that Lewis avoids: the claim of the Catholic Church to be the Church founded by Christ to guide Christian faith and morals through time under the protection of the Holy Spirit.

Lewis treats Catholicism as one room of the main hall of Mere Christianity when, from a Catholic perspective, the house is Catholic and the rooms the denominations within the Christian fold.

Lewis was reticent about addressing the subject of Catholicism. The reason he gave most frequently for this reticence is that to comment on divisions between Christians would emphasize differences and endanger charity (W.H. Lewis, ed. The Letters of C.S. Lewis, p. 230; hereinafter Letters). Various people wrote to him, asking his views on specific Catholic doctrines. His responses to these letters, a few comments in various of his works, a few published or anecdotal reminiscences and one recently published essay are all we have to go on to try and form a view of Lewis' attitude.

It is clear from his writings that Lewis thought schism amongst Christians was a scandal and a "source of grief and a matter for prayers, being a most serious stumbling block to those coming in..." (Letters to Don Calabria, p. 31). In this, he followed his "master" George Macdonald who, in an introduction to one of his lesser known works, called schism "the great Sabbath breaker" (England’s Antiphon). Lewis looked for the day that all Christians would be one and said "'That they all may be one' is a petition which in my prayers I never omit. While the wished-for unity of doctrine and order is missing, all the more eagerly let us try to keep the bond of charity...." (Letters to Don Calabria, p. 71).

In saying this, therefore, he did not necessarily subscribe to the view that Mere Christianity made up of a variety of denominational expressions provided a satisfactory account of what the Church (as distinct from specific teachings about aspects of the Christian faith) ought to be. This is clear from his statement about his own approach in Mere Christianity to the effect that "...if I have not directly helped the cause of reunion, I have perhaps made it clear why we ought to be reunited" (Mere Christianity, London: Bles, 1952, Preface viii).

Lewis on Authority and the Church:

With respect to authority, Lewis discussed this in Mere Christianity in the final chapter of "What Christians Believe" (Book II) under the heading "The Practical Conclusion". What he says is important. Lewis states that three things spread the Christ life in us: "baptism, belief and the Holy Communion of the Mass…" He states that:

"I believe that Jesus was (and is) God on his authority." Then Lewis says something very interesting:

Do not be scared by the word authority. Believing things on authority only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think trustworthy. Ninety-nine percent of the things you believe are believed on authority. None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Armada. We believe them simply because people who did seem them have left writings that tell us about them: in fact, on authority. A man [50] who jibbed at authority in other things as some people do in religion would have to be content to know nothing all his life. (at 48 – 50)
Note here how Lewis completely sidesteps doctrinal dispute and development where authority determines a matter in the face either of scriptural ambiguity (such as the nature of the eucharist or Christ himself) or historical development (the canonicity of Scripture itself). The examples chosen by Lewis (the Norman Conquest and the defeat of the Armada) are matters which we believe on one kind of authority but many of the really important matters which the Christian tradition is based upon were based on quite another - the authority which Lewis depends upon to believe the Creeds (central to the Book of Common Prayer) and the Scriptures (extra-textual authority to determine what the Canon of Scriptures was and is) but which he does not refer to here. Again, what kind of silence is that?

It seems to be a particularly significant omission if, logically, the entire Christian tradition (and he is appealing to what Christians in all ages have held in common) depends upon the authority of the Church to determine the canonicity of the Scriptures, the content of the Creeds and the natures of both the Holy Communion and Our Lord Himself and then to avoid saying so.

Also in Mere Christianity, in the Chapter on "social morality" we get an interesting insight into Lewis' view of the church. While discussing that Christ did not come to preach any brand new morality and that Christianity has not and does not profess to have a detailed political program for applying "Do as you would be done by" to any particular society at any particular moment, Lewis seems to be critical of the idea of a teaching Church. He says in response to those who say "the Church ought to give us a lead" that "…this is true if they mean it in the right way but false if they mean it in the wrong way" (p. 65). What is the right way? Lewis tells us that "by the Church they ought to mean the whole body of practicing Christians…when most people ask for a lead from the Church they mean that they want the Church to put out a political program. That is silly."

With respect, as with the section on authority mentioned above, this view of the relationship between an authoritative teaching church and culture (which Lewis seems to reject) suffers from the same ahistorical and anti-dogmatic aspect. The Church through time (defined as both lay people and those with specific teaching authority) has in fact taught and must teach on matters of faith and morals. That the Church is the whole body of practicing Christians cannot be faulted as far as "membership" goes (and articulating what "membership" is was one of Lewis' great strengths) but what Lewis avoids is the notion of the Church as teaching authority. Is this because, in focusing on "denominations" Lewis couldn’t address "authority" without being controversial and weakening the argument for inclusivity that is the principle, as we have seen, that animated "mere" Christianity?

Several evenings spent over the (Anglican) editors Livingstone and Cross’s long edition of the Oxford History of the Christian Church would show any objective reader that the major disputes from the earliest days of the Church were solved not be "the whole body of practicing Christians" (as members) but by those with specific authority to make doctrinal determinations. The argument as framed by Lewis doesn't deal with how the Church validly deals with questions that have relevance for political programs but overlap with religion and raise a significant problem for the project of "mere" Christianity.

It is now clear from what we see in many cultures that conversion to Christ must not be simply theological. That is to say that the line which Lewis drew when he said "I leave matters of religious controversy for theologians" is a serious problem because much more than "mere" theological results follow from such a sharp bifurcation between religion and culture. Consider the areas of civil society that overlap with religion: public education, health care, and certain questions of politics itself require guidance from religion over time and Lewis himself often wrote about religion and culture on a host of areas. Yet here, he wishes to minimize the teaching authority of the Church itself.

The passage from which the comment that "I leave religious controversy to theologians" is drawn comes from the Preface to the French edition of La Problem de la Souffrance (1950), a Preface which Walter Hooper sets out in Companion, pp. 296 – 297. Because of its importance to the theme of my paper I wish to quote it at length:

I was asked to write a few words of introduction to this book for French readers, who might at first find something ambiguous in my position. Who, one might ask, is this Anglican layman, translated and introduced by Catholics, who, on the frontispiece of The Screwtape Letters, brings together a quotation from Sir Thomas More and one from Martin Luther? Is he unaware of the differences between Christians, or does he consider them unimportant? By no means. As a Christian, I am very much aware that our divisions grieve the Holy Spirit and hold back the work of Christ; as a logician I realize that when two churches affirm opposing positions, these cannot be reconciled.

But because I was an unbeliever for a long time, I perceived something which perhaps those brought up in the Church do not see. Even when I feared and detested Christianity, I was struck by its essential unity, which, in spite of its divisions, it has never lost. I trembled on recognizing the same unmistakable aroma coming from the writings of Dante and Bunyan, Thomas Aquinas and William Law.

Since my conversion, it has seemed my particular task to tell the outside world what all Christians believe. Controversy I leave to others: that is the business of theologians. I think that you and I, the laity, simple soldiers of the Faith, will best serve the cause of reconciliation not so much by contributing to such debates, but by our prayers, and by sharing all that can already be shared of Christian life.

If the unity of charity and intention between us were strong enough, perhaps our doctrinal differences would be resolved sooner; without that spiritual unity, a doctrinal agreement between our religious leaders would be sterile.

In the meantime, it will be apparent that the man who is most faithful in living the Christian life in his own church is spiritually the closest to the faithful believers in other confessions: because the geography of the spiritual world is very different from that of the physical world. In the latter, countries touch each other at their borders, in the former, at their center. It is the lukewarm and indifferent in each country who are furthest from all other countries.
(pp. 296 – 297 emphasis added).

Lewis was aware that there were differences between denominational Christianity and Catholicism and was aware of tendencies in each regard. He believed that when Catholicism became decadent it was in the direction of superstition and when Protestantism became decadent it tended towards becoming "a vague mist of ethical platitudes" (Allegory of Love, p.323).

Catholic writers (such as Christopher Derrick and John Randolph Willis S.J.) have criticized Lewis's failure to deal with the claims of Catholicism. Derrick, for example, a pupil and later a close friend of Lewis, has noted that Lewis implicitly treated Catholicism as a denomination and that such a categorization (notably in Mere Christianity) is not ecumenical at all in so far as its starting assumption is that Catholic claims about the uniqueness of the Catholic Church are simply wrong (Derrick, C.S. Lewis and the Church of Rome, San Francisco: Ignatius, 1981, pp. 174 ff.).

It is fair to note that by ignoring the claim to uniqueness that the Catholic Church holds, and by treating it as something it does not claim to be (a denomination - one option amongst many), Lewis is inconsistent with his own statements in Mere Christianity about how truth claims ought to be dealt with. Lewis, after all, dismissed any attempts to say that Jesus Christ was simply a great moral teacher but not what he claimed to be because of the nature of the claims (Mere Christianity, p. 42). But Lewis does not apply this logic to the Catholic Church's claims.

This important point: that the Catholic Church’s claims to be the Church founded expressly by Jesus not a denomination among many, was avoided by Lewis. He approached the Catholic Church from just the position he rejected as "patronizing nonsense" with respect to a similar approach to Jesus were we to say he was merely a great moral teacher but not what he claimed to be. The question of whether Lewis' goal of avoiding controversy is justified must be answered in relation to other questions than whether Lewis was consistent in his approach to truth claims.

At the end of the day we cannot know whether Lewis ever did address these claims. On the evidence available it would seem not. Lewis seems on all the evidence to have simply avoided the question. An interesting footnote here is that Lewis frequently recommended to correspondents that the "best Christian apologetic" he knew was G.K. Chesterton’s extraordinary book The Everlasting Man (1925).

In the "Prefatory Note" to the first edition of that book, Chesterton noted that:

It is impossible, I hope, for any Catholic to write any book on any subject, above all this subject, without showing that he is a Catholic; but this study is not specially concerned with the differences between a Catholic and a Protestant.

Throughout the book Chesterton distinguishes between "churches" and "the Church" when he speaks of Protestant or Catholic communities, everywhere suggesting that it is "the Church" which maintains the correct course.

For Chesterton, there was a definite Catholic Church with specific and unique claims just as there was a specific Jesus Christ with specific and unique claims. In the works written after he became a Catholic, Chesterton never ceased to develop the distinctiveness, exclusivity and importance of the claims of the Catholic Church.

In their 1974 biography C.S. Lewis, Walter Hooper and Roger Lancelyn Green state that by 1932, "Lewis had read most of Chesterton’s theological books…" If he continuted to read Chesterton's theological writings, it is surprising that he seems not to have annotated his own copy of Chesterton's book on the Catholic Church, The Thing. There is no evidence that Lewis ever read the book; he certainly did not refer to it in any published writings or letters. Perhaps this was tactical reticence?

J.R.R. Tolkien, his close friend and himself a Catholic, is reputed to have said that Lewis did not become a Catholic due to "Ulsterior motives". Christopher Derrick has also said that Lewis’ Northern Irish roots played a large part in his unwillingness to engage Catholic truth claims. Those interested in this aspect of Lewis should, in addition to Derrick’s book, consult John Randolph Willis's study of Lewis’ theology (Willis, Pleasures Forevermore: The Theology of C.S. Lewis, Chicago: Loyola, 1983 at p.84).

In his letter of March 13, 1956 (Letters) Lewis writes: "The Doctrines about the Blessed Virgin which you mention are R.C. doctrines, aren’t they? And as I’m not an R.C. I don’t think I need bother about them." But in light of Christian history and Lewis' love of good argument it seems rather strange that he veered away in such a manner.

There are glimpses within Lewis' oeuvre of a genuine attraction to specifically Catholic theological conceptions. While he personally came to believe in purgatory, went to confession and was clearly steeped in a love of liturgy, his comments in a letter to Arthur Greeves in relation to reading Dante's Paradiso, add an interesting perspective on Lewis' thoughts of Catholicism:

[The Paradiso] has really opened a new world to me. I don't know whether it is really very different from the Inferno…or whether I was specially receptive, but it certainly seemed to me that I had never seen at all what Dante was like before….I should describe it as feeling more important than any poetry I have ever read. Whether it has the things you specially like is another question. It is seldom homely: perhaps not holy in our sense – it is too Catholic for that: and of course its blend of complexity and beauty is very like Catholic theology – wheel within wheel, but wheels of glory, and the One radiated through the Many.

(Walter Hooper, C.S. Lewis: Collected Letters Vol. 1, Family Letters 1905 - 1931, London: Harper Collins, 2000, p. 857; emphasis in original).

That Lewis ignored the specifically Catholic contributions to cultural engagement is surprising and significant. To take but one small example, it is worth noting that there is simply no Protestant equivalent to the 19th-century papal encyclical Rerum Novarum of 1891 ("On the Conditions of the Working Classes") - a fact noted by many converts to Catholicism.

For Lewis to consider such distinctives irrelevant to a larger theological purpose ("avoiding controversy" and encouraging a move to unity that lacked specific doctrinal formulation) in light of current religious issues in Western countries could be viewed in two very different ways: a sort of prudent reticence or a folly of disengagement.

The ever-proliferating denominational divisions which Lewis considered scandalous do not appear to have been stopped or even slowed down by his widely read work. Is this not something that Lewis would have considered important at some point if the fact of division was actually a scandal?

The differences of viewpoint between religious groups are often ignored in the same way but with, now, greater consequences given developments in "liberal theology", medical technology, the rise of individualism and the slow but steady exclusion of religion from the new anti-religious "secularism" that uses our confusion about the term "secular" to drive religion more and more into the purely private sphere.

Whatever the reason for Lewis' approach, it is clear that he viewed Catholics as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and in this respect he is in agreement with Catholic teaching about Protestants who are brothers and sisters in Christ by virtue of their baptism irrespective of what denomination they belong to.

It was a surprise to many of our friends that when my wife and I were received into the Catholic Church in 1989 we were not re-baptized, since a baptism done in accordance with the Scriptures is valid. This is a significant fact in our discussions for Christian unity. It is interesting how many Protestant groups routinely baptize Catholics who join their groups or who tolerate rebaptism of themselves. Clearly very different understandings of baptism are in operation.

In addition to this, Lewis' many friendships with Catholics (such as Tolkien, Bede Griffiths and Christopher Derrick), his frequent reference to Catholic writers (not the least of whom was G.K. Chesterton), and the fact that the Socratic Society frequently involved Catholics as speakers (for example, the philosopher G.E.M. Anscombe, and Fr. Martin D'Arcy), all shows his unquestioned commitment to practical ecumenism.

Given developments in his own Anglican church in recent years and his strongly expressed views in opposition to the ordination of women (now an accepted aspect of Anglicanism), it is not clear where Lewis would have stood in relation to Catholicism had he lived longer.

What is clear is that Lewis' own life and works were dedicated to a form of ecumenism which sought to build bridges between all Christians, and from that coalition to the surrounding culture. He would, no doubt, have endorsed recent developments in the direction of strategic alliances between Protestants and Catholics in regard to many cultural issues. We are left to wonder what Lewis would make of the "papal claims" today given his statement to another pupil, Dom Bede Griffiths (who was a Catholic convert and became a priest) that "[n]othing would give such strong support to the papal claims as the spectacle of a Pope actually functioning as the head of Christendom" (Letters, 165).

In a recently published article (not, therefore, covered in the books referred to above) on the subject of "Christian Reunion," Lewis recognized that the central difficulty in the way of reunion amongst Christians is "…disagreement about the seat and nature of doctrinal authority."

In this essay, "Christian Reunion" (Christian Reunion and Other Essays, ed. Walter Hooper, London: Collins, 1990 p.17 at p.19) Lewis stated that:

The real reason why I cannot be in communion with you [Roman Catholics] is not my disagreement with this or that Roman doctrine, but that to accept your Church means, not to accept a given body of doctrine, but to accept in advance any doctrine your Church hereafter produces. It is like being asked to agree not only to what a man has said but also to what he is going to say.

While Lewis saw disunity as "a tragic and sinful division" (ibid. p.17) his focus and gifts lay in leading people to general truths about the faith. Insofar as he saw division as "sinful" however, Lewis did not endorse the view shared by so many, that the current divisions are normal or acceptable, nor that the Church should be seen as merely an "invisible" reality.

There is, therefore, an unresolved tension in Lewis' thought on this point: that of an invisible Church (which he rejected, since he believed that the Church was "torn and divided" and should be "reunited") and his reference to "my own Church" (referring to Anglicanism, as in his essay on "Membership" in Transposition and Other Essays, p. 41). This "tension" brings us to the nub of the question.

If there are 'churches' rather than the Church, then how is unity other than invisible? And if unity is invisible, then how is the Church divided (if it is invisible, after all, one could not "see" division)? Whatever one's views, most people would however agree with what Lewis said in one of his Latin letters to an Italian priest, "...All who profess themselves Christians are bound to offer prayers for the reunion of the Church now, alas, torn and divided" (Letters of C.S. Lewis to Don Calabria, p. 99).

Lewis cautioned that whatever we do we ought not to start quarrelling with other people "because they use a different formula from yours" (Mere Christianity, p. 144). We must ask, however, whether avoidance of the claims of the Catholic Church in light of the challenges facing Christianity in the contemporary age is something that a contemporary apologist ought to do. Cooperation on projects to revivify or restore or shore-up or rebuild the many sad aspects of contemporary culture must, it seems to me, be based upon a genuine recognition of the facts and these facts, viewed historically and dogmatically take us, as Lewis himself recognized, beyond the scope of "mere Christianity."

This point has been recognized and expressed powerfully by the late Lesslie Newbigin in his book Foolishness to the Greeks (Eerdmans, 1976) where, at p. 145 ff. that fine Protestant author noted that the divisions within Protestantism make denominations themselves unable to speak about unity to the post-modern cultural fragmentation surrounding denominational churches. Like C.S. Lewis, however, Newbigin fails to note that there is one Church that does claim to speak with authority and for unity - that is, the Roman Catholic Church. This kind of lacunae in a book of this sort is rather surprising.

I conclude with two passages from opposite ends of Mere Christianity. The first relates to the danger that readers of Mere Christianity will consider the contents as necessary and sufficient. Lewis writes:

I hope no reader will suppose that "mere" Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions – as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in . . . When you do get into your room you will find that the long wait has done you some kind of good which you would not have had otherwise. But you must regard it as waiting, not as camping. You must keep on praying for light: and of course, even in the hall you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house. And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and paneling. In plain language, the question should never be: "Do I like that kind of service?" but "Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular doorkeeper?"

When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house. (pp. xi-xii).

Given some of the quotations I read from other parts of Lewis' work earlier, it is hard not to see an irony in Lewis' admonition to "above all pursue truth" in terms of doctrines when we see him all too often avoiding just this kind of analysis. While we ought to accept his emphasis on charity in pursuit of truth, a little more clarity on the nature of the Church is in order.

Finally, I conclude with a short quotation from the end of Mere Christianity.

Never forget that we are all still "the early Christians." The present wicked and wasteful divisions between us are, let us hope, a disease of infancy: we are still teething. (p. 173)

Whatever the usefulness of Mere Christianity as an introduction to some of the basic conceptions of the Christian faith, its "mereness" is, as Lewis himself noted, no substitute for fuller descriptions. It is, after all, meaningful conceptions of authority, unity, tradition and doctrinal development that need to be contained in more complete understandings. For there to be an effective antidote to the "diseases" and "wasteful divisions" that C.S. Lewis recognized, one must, in fact, go beyond Mere Christianity itself. If Mere Christianity becomes an end in itself (a danger Lewis hinted at but failed to follow through to its logical conclusions) it starts to act as an impediment to rather than a means towards Christian unity.

[12. iv. 1997 (rev’d 9.- 11, v.2001, January 2002) portions of the above were published in The C.S. Lewis Readers’ Encyclopedia, Jeffrey D. Schultz and John G. West Jr. eds. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998) at pp. 356 – 358]

Catholic Critique of Anglicanism

[originally uploaded on 12 November 2001]

I. The Dilemma of Competing Ecclesiologies: the Visible vs. the Invisible Church

If Anglicans have any sort of notion of "indefectibility" - whereby the true Christian Church (or a valid portion of the universal catholic church, etc.) cannot and will not fall into rank heresy; being protected by the Holy Spirit, then it would be quite difficult for traditionalist Anglicans to square that concept with what is happening in liberal Anglican and Episcopalian circles today.

If one takes a view of the Christian Church that it is a visible, historical institution, then indefectibility would seem to follow as a matter of course. Or one can take an alternate view of the "invisible church," which is the route of most non-Anglican Protestants, but then (in my opinion) historical continuity, apostolicity, and legitimate apostolic Tradition lose some of their authoritativeness and binding nature.

The presence of heresy and ethical departure from Christian precedent raises troubling questions as to the apostolicity and legitimacy of visible, institutional churches. But the breakaway Anglican communions have to deal with the schismatic principle: i.e., how can they break away and form a new sect without this doing harm to the notion of "one holy catholic and apostolic church" and the apostolic continuity (or, "indefectibility") of the "mother church"?

In other words, I think (orthodox, traditional) Anglicans have a real dilemma here, since to accept the more institutional, "visible" view of ecclesiology is to be confronted with clear heresy and departure from Christian Tradition, while breaking away, on the other hand, creates the difficulty of a de facto acceptance of the Protestant "invisible church" framework and hence, the actuality or potentiality of yet another schism. So the orthodox Anglican is "betwixt and between" two incompatible forms of ecclesiology, with no easy resolution to either problem.

Anglicanism seems to me to foster an incoherent mixing of low Protestant invisible church beliefs and apostolic succession, which I understand is the mainstream Anglican position. It's neither "fish nor fowl." Better (logically speaking) to be either . . .

The Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles of 1571 state:

XIX. The visible Church of Christ is the congregation of faithful men in which the pure Word of God is preached and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all things that of necessity are requisite to the same.
So the Church is visible. If one adopts visibility and "institutionality" as ecclesiological criteria, then the dilemma or difficulty arises, because that is in distinction to the invisible church notion of mainstream Protestantism. But Anglicans (i.e., orthodox ones) seem to be in a catch-22 here, granting the above standard of the nature of the Church.

But then again, I suppose the above might be interpreted in the "invisible" fashion. To me, it is potentially as nebulous and malleable as any Baptist or Reformed Creed or Confession or official denominational statement, etc.

This business of "the congregation of faithful men in which the pure Word of God is preached" is full of interpretational difficulties. It reads great, but it is extremely difficult to consistently apply. If the Church is merely every "faithful" man, then surely this is the invisible church, rather than the visible, since in the institutional Church, the wheat and the tares grow up together, as Christ tells us. There are sinners in the Church. That is abundantly clear in Paul's letters to the Galatians and Corinthians, and the seven churches in Revelation, among other biblical indications.

And what is the "pure Word of God"? Given the squabbles in Anglicanism, it seems that this is not so simple of a matter to determine. There are no Ecumenical Councils to resolve it, and of course no pope. If it were that simple, then many things in Anglicanism would have long since been determined, and the current civil war would be a lot less serious than it is. But if the "Church" consists of all the faithful, who hear the Pure Word, then I dare say that there isn't a single congregation in the world, of any trinitarian Christian stripe, which qualifies. So - with all due respect - I contend that the above statement is hopelessly incoherent.

I have faith that my Church is divinely protected, just as most committed, devout, practicing Christians of any stripe have faith that God preserved the Bible from error, and inspired it. One is no more implausible than the other, in my opinion. And just as there are thorny exegetical and hermeneutical and textual difficulties in Scripture to be worked through and mulled over, so there are in Church history. But that need not cause anyone to despair that God is able to protect His Sacred Tradition and His Church and orthodoxy inviolate.

That's why I've always said that Protestants seem to have a lack of faith in what God can and will do. I believe this even has a relationship - however remote - to the Incarnation. God became a Man and so raised humanity to previous untold heights (I've actually written about deification and theosis - usually Orthodox emphases - in my second book). Likewise, if God created a Church which is at bottom a divine institution: His institution, is it not plausible to believe in faith that He can protect that institution from doctrinal error? Yet Protestants and (many?) Anglicans want to adopt an "invisible" notion of the Church, which I find to be utterly unbiblical and non-apostolic.

Indefectibility follows from the "self-confidence" of each Church's Creed and how binding they claim to be; also based on certain statements of Jesus and the Apostles whereby we are led to believe that the true Church would not fall into heresy, as there is a true and false tradition. That is certainly how St. Paul views the matter. For him it is quite cut-and-dried. God is able in fact to maintain pure doctrine. He is not able to maintain pure human beings, because He has allowed free will and the freedom to rebel against Him and righteousness. But doctrinal and ethical truth and orthodoxy - not having free will - are possible for an omnipotent, sovereign Being to uphold, even in a human institution.

Abuse and institutionalization of error are vastly different. Catholic theological and moral doctrine has not changed. Anglican doctrine has: on contraception, on divorce, on abortion, on homosexuality, and any number of other issues. So the traditionalists among them have formed breakaway communions. Their motives are certainly pure, but this doesn't solve their ecclesiological problem. They're still applying the Protestant principles of schism and private judgment, and this clashes with the nature of the Church as expressed in the Nicene Creed.

Be that as it may, I see internal inconsistency in how Anglicans are applying the term "church" - an arbitrary switching back and forth between invisible and visible definitions, which I think is improper and illogical. There is a sense in which an invisible or mystical church is properly spoken of, but for those who accept apostolic succession, this can never undermine in the least a visible, institutional church.

II. Anglican "Messiness": Glory or Tragedy?

More than one Anglican has told me that they "glory" in Anglican "messiness" - i.e., the fact that not all dogmas are infallibly declared, but that the individual can choose among options. They seem to view this as an admirable moderation or restraint, free from the excesses of "Rome." But where do we find the desirability of "messiness" in Holy Scripture? We find messiness in the early Church, surely (all over the place), but what we never find is commendation for such "messiness," as if it were a good thing.

What we find, on the contrary, are condemnations of this in the strongest possible terms, from both St. Paul (in places too numerous to mention) and Our Lord Jesus (e.g., John 17). So this approach is somewhat baffling, from a strictly scriptural point of view. Are we to glory in human shortcomings rather than divine ideals and goals and biblical prescriptions? This strikes me - with all due respect - as C.S. Lewis's "Mere Christianity" taken to an extreme.

If I may be so brash as to speculate: the tendency of Anglicanism to perpetually divide itself into parties in many ways mutually exclusive (thus allowing a natural inroads to the modernist with few scruples and little historical sense of orthodoxy), is ultimately doctrinal relativism. It isn't like Dominicans, Jesuits, and Benedictines in the Catholic Church, since those are primarily differences in spiritual approach and liturgy, rather than fundamental theology and ethics.

Messiness has struck the Catholic Church too, because of the gift of modernism that was born and bred in Protestant ranks and bequeathed to us. But we regard this "messiness" as a bad thing, as a distortion and co-opting of the orthodox Vatican II, whereas so many Anglicans "glory" in it. Strange: traditionalist Anglicans fight the liberals on the one hand, yet revel in theological diversity and relativism on the other. Relativism and a body of truth more than one and indivisible is an absolutely unbiblical concept.

The Church is what it is, because the apostolic deposit was what it was and is. Unity exists insofar as Christians accept this deposit and submit themselves to it. But of course Anglicans and Catholics have arguments as to the nature of the initial Tradition handed down to us by the Apostles. The thing to do is to determine what the Apostles believed and to conform ourselves to those beliefs. But one must necessarily take into account the place of development of doctrine, as well. I think development is the key for understanding the non-essential differences in doctrines from the time of the Apostles to our time, and the key for Protestants to understand the ostensible "growth" of doctrine in Catholicism (what is usually termed "[unbiblical] excess" or "corruption."

It was even stated by one Anglican with whom I dialogued, that this "messiness" had humility "as its root." I fail to comprehend this thinking. How is it a lack of humility (as it seems to me this person was perhaps subtly implying) to simply acknowledge that certain things are true, as passed down by an authoritative Christian body, be it Anglican, Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, or Reformed? And how is it "humble" merely to accept the notion that large areas of ethics and doctrine should be left up to choice and a sort of "majority vote" - which I would call a de facto relativism? If I were to choose, I would say that it is arguably far less humble to feel that one can pick and choose Christian truths, rather than submitting in obedience and faith to whatever brand of Christianity they adhere to. This gets into the rather complicated argument about private judgment.

III. The Via Media: the Attempted and Sought-After "Middle Way" of Anglicanism

The Anglican concept of the Via Media is regarded as a "middle way" between Protestantism and (Roman) Catholicism. Cardinal Newman disputed this understanding with great force (I think, compellingly) in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine and Apologia pro vita sua, but the perspective is still very much with us today.

What fascinates me about this Via Media approach is: by what means does one arrive at it? What are its first premises, and where do they come from? Is it in the Bible? If so, where? Is this strain of thought present in the Church Fathers? For my part, I would suspect that it is ultimately (in terms of history of ideas) a product of Renaissance nominalism, sola Scriptura, and the negative influences of post-"Enlightenment" philosophical thought. I could just as easily make a case that certain secular philosophical influences have brought Anglicans to this juncture where they think in these terms in the first place, so that they are just as beholden to philosophy as we are with our Thomistic "baptized" Aristotelianism (as they sometimes criticize us).

Catholics are in no way, shape, or form, reducing mysteries to merely intellectual constructs. We bow before the mysteries; we marvel at them. Are Marian apparitions, e.g., instances of a "dominance of intellect"? Yet some of them (notably, Fatima and Lourdes) are accepted at the very highest levels of the Chruch, and all of our greatest thinkers (e.g., Aquinas, Augustine, Newman, the present pope) had or have a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin.

It's not either/or. We value mind and heart, mysticism and systematic theology, ortodoxy and orthopraxis, experience and the pondering of the intricacies of dogma. Our greatest saints are always combinations of these traits and emphases. I say that our "both/and" approach is the truest kind of Via Media: a refusal to create false dichotomies, and to accept all the different aspects of faith, all the while not relegating dogmas to majority vote and "secondary doctrines." As Chesterton observed:

The Church is from the first a thing holding its own position and point of view, quite apart from the accidents and anarchies of its age. That is why it deals blows impartially right and left, at the pessimism of the Manichean or the optimism of the Pelagian. It was not a Manichean movement because it was not a movement at all. It was not an official fashion because it was not a fashion at all. It was something that could coincide with movements and fashions, could control them and could survive them.

(The Everlasting Man, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1925, 228)
If the Via Media is such an attractive and distinguishing trait, then surely it can be found in the Bible and the Fathers and the early Councils, right? Anglicans also value those sources very highly, so it seems to me that if this notion of Via Media cannot be found there, then Anglicanism has a problem of internal incoherence once again - and a rather serious one at that.

Cardinal Newman, in his criticism of the Via Media in his Apologia, argued that the "middle position" between so-called extremes was also heretical. If one takes a position between 4th-century Catholicism and Arianism, one is not a "Via Media Christian." That person is a Semi-Arian. By pressing various analogies like this, Newman was led to the realization where he wrote (famously): "I looked in the mirror and I was a Monophysite."

Again, I ask Anglicans (with perfect sincerity and curiosity): where in the Bible or the Fathers or Councils do you find the scenario of always seeking a "middle way" between two other parties? What was the equivalent in the Ancient Church of the Anglican Via Media? I suppose Anglicans could argue that the ancient Catholic Church was closer to present-day Anglicanism than to present-day Catholicism, but that would take an awful lot of arguing to be persuasive. To offer two quick examples: where are, e.g., the analogies to the Council of Chalcedon and Pope Leo the Great in Anglicanism today? But Catholics have John Paul II and Vatican II.

IV. Anglicanism and the Papacy

One Anglican argued that since the ex cathedra definition of papal infallibility was promulgated in 1870, that no pope prior to that date could fulfill that role. That a particular doctrine was not dogmatically defined before a certain date, however, does not mean that it didn't exist prior to that date, or was not widely accepted. Papal infallibility and supremacy of jurisdiction certainly did exist, and was - by and large - adhered to, until the Orthodox ditched it, and later the Anglicans and Protestants.

The very fact that all of them made a big deal out of rejecting it (we need look no further than Henry VIII) proves that it was in fact present. It is presupposed in Luther's contrary statement at the Diet of Worms: "popes and Councils can err." How can one reject something that is nonexistent? Controversy suggests contrary views. St. Thomas More was martyred in order to uphold papal supremacy, which in turn is closely connected (logically and ecclesiologically) to papal infallibility (of some sort, at any rate).

John Henry Cardinal Newman, in his masterpiece Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845; rev. 1878), elaborates upon the above analysis:

Whether communion with the Pope was necessary for Catholicity would not and could not be debated till a suspension of that communion had actually occurred. It is not a greater difficulty that St. Ignatius does not write to the Asian Greeks about Popes, than that St. Paul does not write to the Corinthians about Bishops. And it is a less difficulty that the Papal supremacy was not formally acknowledged in the second century, than that there was no formal acknowledgment on the part of the Church of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity till the fourth. No doctrine is defined till it is violated . . . .

Moreover, an international bond and a common authority could not be consolidated . . . while persecutions lasted. If the Imperial Power checked the development of Councils, it availed also for keeping back the power of the Papacy. The Creed, the Canon, in like manner, both remained undefined . . . All began to form, as soon as the Empire relaxed its tyrannous oppression of the Church . . .

Supposing there be otherwise good reason for saying that the Papal Supremacy is part of Christianity, there is nothing in the early history of the Church to contradict it. . .

Doctrine cannot but develop as time proceeds and need arises, and . . . therefore it is lawful, or rather necessary, to interpret the words and deeds of the earlier Church by the determinate teaching of the later.
Details needed to be worked out (e.g., how wide was the latitude for papal infallibility: Vatican I settled on a (relatively speaking) "moderate" position over against the Ultramontanes and the Gallicans, and what was later known as the "Old Catholics" (led by the historian Dollinger), but this is the case with all developments. I could just as well say that no one believed that Christ had Two Natures before Chalcedon in 451, because it wasn't yet precisely defined dogma, or that no one accepted the Trinity before Nicaea in 325, etc.

Papal infallibility is a straightforward development and logical extension of papal supremacy. The latter can be indisputably shown in hundreds of patristic (and even conciliar) quotes, perhaps most notably from Pope Leo the Great. And the former is not at all inconsistent with it.

Now, lest Anglicans or anyone else dispute the validity of development itself, they would have to demonstrate how Christological or canonical or soteriological development (particularly concerning original sin) differ in essence from development of the office of the papacy. Anglicanism has no pope; Orthodoxy has none; Protestants have none, but the early Church sure seemed to (even if the office is regarded as merely a primacy of honor).

How does one get from a pope to no pope in a straight line of doctrinal development? Therefore, I submit that having no pope is far more a departure from early Christianity than having an infallible pope. The first is a complete reversal of precedent; the latter a deductive development of what came before.

There either was a pope in Church history or there wasn't. Most (if not all) would grant that there was. Then the dispute becomes the extent of his power and jurisdiction, and infallibility. At that point it becomes (insofar as it is a strictly historical discussion) basically a "war of patristic and conciliar quotes." Thus far, no matter how (in my opinion) compelling a set of quotes from the Fathers is produced, I have yet to meet an opponent who will deal with them seriously and comprehensively rather than derisively or dismissively. Granted, I may have limited experience, but I have engaged in many dialogues, and I refer only to my own experience, as far as it goes.

Another tack I would take on this is that Anglicans (as far as I can see) acknowledge (early) conciliar and creedal infallibility (or at least a high degree of authoritativeness, notwithstanding disputes of interpretation). Now, I assume that would be based on consensus of the early Church, just as, e.g., the Canon of New Testament Scripture or the Two Natures of Christ was. But many in that early Church (and not a few from the East) acknowledged the papacy in exalted terms not inconsistent with the full development of papal infallibility, brought to fruition in 1870.

So why accept their opinions on one thing and not the other? If we judge the authoritativeness and truthfulness of Church Fathers at every turn based on our own private judgment, then we are in no wise different in our approach than Luther at Worms and thereafter. And that gets me right back to my point about the incoherent mixtures of Protestant and Catholic notions of ecclesiology and authority in Anglicanism. Apostolic succession means something.

Beyond that are the biblical indications of papal supremacy and the logical deduction of infallibility in the same sense that a Council (e.g., the one in Jerusalem: Acts 15) is regarded as infallible in some binding and dogmatic sense.

Development ought not surprise us. It has always been with us, and always will be. It is evident in Scripture itself (e.g., the angelology which had obviously undergone much development amongst the Jews in the inter-Testamental period). The common mistake is to confuse particulars of definition with the essence of a doctrine, and so conclude falsely that the essential or presuppositional elements were never historically present before they were defined in great precision. Such is the case with papal infallibility, as with many other disputed doctrines - e.g., the Catholic Marian ones.

Anglicans like to claim that papal excesses in the exercise of authority fractured the Catholic Church, with the Great Schism (when three men claimed to be pope simultaneously) and the events of the 16th-century so-called "Reformation." But the papacy was by no means the sole factor in either break. It was much more so in the so-called English "Reformation" since Henry VIII wanted supremacy to reside in himself rather than the trans-national papacy (in the first instance due to sheer lust). St. Thomas More died because of his refusal to accept that travesty of justice and perversion of Christian governance.

Students of Church history may recall that Martin Luther also rejected conciliar infallibility and five previously commonly-accepted sacraments, among many other things. He had to do so in order to establish absolute supremacy of conscience, private judgment, and sola Scriptura, with its corollary perspicuity of Scripture, as the new formal principles of authority. I don't see that Anglicans are much different, much as they acknowledge and claim to respect primitive Christian Tradition and the Fathers. I believe Anglicans (at least the more traditional and "orthodox" ones) do respect them, but I see many problems of inconsistent application of their teachings, and an incoherent mixture of visible and invisible church notions (and private judgment vs. the obedience entailed in apostolic succession).

Jesus Himself said that His coming would divide households. Was that His fault? Likewise, if the papacy was indeed divinely-instituted, yet people didn't like it and rejected it, was it God's fault that division then occurred? We should also expect conflict in larger Church battles and divisions. But we shouldn't adopt an indifferentist or relativist approach and assume all sides are equally right, or that there is no right side, simply because division exists, or that every man is in effect his own pope, or despair that there is any answer at all.

The grounds for the papacy are in Scripture itself, and in how the Lord and the early Church regarded St. Peter. That's where the argument succeeds or fails (at least in ecumenical discussion), not in a momentary dispute between Paul and Peter (over behavioral hypocrisy - not doctrine at all), or some alleged arrogant act of Pius IX, or a whoring Renaissance Borgia pope, or historical-political-cultural happenstance, etc.

END