I’m reposting this, because it is so good. But also because we live in a society that has become a slave to sentimentality. This is also true of Christianity — sentimentality affects so much and we are so blind. O’Connor hated sentimentality. Ralph Wood speaks to this in the midst of so much else he says. A rich talk indeed.
Category Archives: Protestantism
There are a number of Church history timelines out there if you want to find them. They all support one argument or another. Of the ones I’ve found (via Google image searching) most seem designed to demonstrate how the more or less connected Eastern Orthodox churches are somehow, truly, the one, consistently intact, non-apostate church, by showing that both the Catholic Church and all the Protestant churches are apostate deviations from Eastern Orthodoxy. I don’t find these timelines or arguments very convincing (though I flirted with becoming Eastern Orthodox before entering the Catholic Church).
Very few timelines I’ve seen are about the histories of Protestant churches from a Protestant perspective for obvious reasons — pick any one and they don’t go back very far, and are rife with so many splits as to make one’s head spin. See this previous post for examples. Rampant disunity and proneness to division makes the Protestant churches visually impossible to establish their continuity with the Apostles (and opens the door to questions most Protestants would like to imagine don’t actually exist or are not important). Better to avoid that embarrassing visual altogether. Anyway, Protestants put their emphasis on other things.
Yet, we get clearly from scripture that Jesus, with His apostles, founded a Church; that that Church is both mystical and visible, is marked by unity, is full of sacraments, and Hell will not prevail against it. Thus we should expect to find a clear line through history that we can call the Church. Given that all human beings are sinners, and that the Church is made up of sinners, then we should also expect an imperfect Church, prone to struggles, run through with sin, and teaming with problems — perhaps even its own periodic “dark ages” and times of great distress. But we should also see the work of the Holy Spirit, working on the hearts of the Church’s members, guiding the Church through the struggles, chastising it, correcting it, disciplining it, but keeping the thread of continuity always visible. If we are willing to entertain such an idea, it doesn’t take long to discover the Catholic Church is the best choice for being that church. All others, except to some degree the Eastern Orthodox churches, pale in comparison.
But it’s not all that easy to find a timeline of Church history from a Catholic perspective. Perhaps that’s because Catholics don’t feel they need to create such a thing.
However, here’s a decent one showing the continuity of the Catholic Church as compared to various Protestant divisions:
If the visual of this timeline means anything, then we see the Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, and Methodists grouped on one side, and all the rest on the other — which implies more or less deviation from the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church — depending on which side one is on. Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, and Methodists — the diagram seems to say — are closer to the Catholic Church than those on the right. This is the traditional Catholic perspective, though it has changed in recent years as generally only Evangelicals, Baptists, and some Reformed maintained traditional moral positions (mainly on sexual, gender, and life issues) and the mainline churches have deviated substantially.
My own history began in one of those Baptist strands on the right. I knew nothing about anything of Church history, and especially Baptist history. If Blessed John Henry Newman is right, that to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant, then it’s no wonder Protestants (especially of the radical reformation) don’t want to know anything about their church histories — it’s too much of a threat to their way of life. I got the impression that our church had sprung directly from the pages of scripture, which allowed us to blithely disregard most all of Christian history from the death of St. John to the present day. Nearly everything I heard about the history of the Church could have been boiled down to a handful of repeated (and easily refuted) tropes about the Reformation and “those Catholics,” accepted with knowing nods, and never questioned. That was my experience. Of course, we never asked any knowledgeable Catholics about anything.
Now we live at a time when questions of doctrine and dogma, Church history and practice, and the deep divisions among the faithful are shrugged off as being uninteresting. So much of Christian experience seems to reflect our broader societies values (beliefs are only personal and must remain so, faith is private, and choosing a church is more like choosing a new favorite restaurant) that people can’t see any purpose in asking if there is such a thing as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
While growing up Protestant, naturally I was told church history was unimportant — only Jesus and the Bible were important. But if the Church is the bride of Christ, then history matters — like your own history. You are a continuity of God’s grace in your life, and so is the Church. What is particularly troubling with this timeline is that it shows that Christians have been practicing separating (one could say divorcing) from each other for a very long time. As they say, practice makes perfect. What has this done to our souls? How has this spirit invaded our culture at all levels?
We read in John chapter 17, Jesus prayed:
“And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.”
“I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one…”
Did Christ intend that they, and we, actually be one — implying visible as well as mystical unity? Can we really, over the long term, have the mystical and not the visible? Can we be divided in practice, in doctrine, in life, and still be okay that somewhere, somehow, we’re all unified in Christ? Like the hardness of heart Christ speaks of when he discusses divorce, is the Church in time and space, in hearts and in actions, an example to the world of the hardness of ours hearts? I think so. This is a profound problem.
I have come to believe that once one cares at all about the continuity of the Church down through the ages, it then becomes clear all arrows point to the Catholic Church as the one founded by Christ. For all of its problems, and its crazy history, it remains. If one cannot imagine becoming Catholic, then it’s best to forget everything about Church history, grab one’s Bible, and just claim Jesus as Lord. Right? To many this sounds like a good plan, but that very perspective is at the heart of that crazy timeline of disunity, with Christians splitting from each other, with every man a pope, creating havoc among the faithful, and shaming Christ before the world. There is something profoundly broken and wrong-headed about the “me and Jesus” mindset as the foundation for being the Church. There is something profoundly broken and wrong-headed about betting on sola scriptura. The evidence is everywhere.
This timeline shows that Christians have grotesquely failed in unity. Given human nature, original sin, and the incessant work of the Devil, this is no surprise. I have written about this before, but I believe the spirit at the core of the Reformation was the spirit of disunity (shored up by theological arguments that sound a lot like excuses), and that spirit has thrived down the centuries until today, and has affected all of modern culture — we are a culture of divorce on all fronts (we are constantly separating ourselves from others, reveling in our disunity, fighting against those “idiots,” and finding ever new ways to stay apart). But Christians should know that in and through Christ all those distinctions fade, and our human excuses disappear. Non-denominationalism (not caring about denominations any more) has not solved this issue. Evangelicalism has not solved the issue — though it embodies some good things. Cool churches in school gyms have not solved the issue. Gathering “outside” mainstream Christian culture in some small, radical biblicism enclave has not solved the issue. Social media, and our ability to be “connected,” has not solved this issue. Unity in Christ is hard enough, why then seek it and flaunt it?
Because I know that at the individual level there are many, many Christians who passionately love Christ, I have hope for a coming unity once again. That unity will, and must, be both of the heart and visible; of faith and structure; of the mystical Church and the church down the street. May we humbly follow Christ and be “one” again.
Post Script: Most Christians, as far as I can tell, could not care less about these things. This is true for both Protestants and Catholics. There is a happy cluelessness, a shrug and a “who cares?” or “I don’t see how that matters” attitude. I care, in part, because I was Protestant and converted to Catholicism. I had to wrestle with a lot of issues and claims raised by both “sides.” I was drawn by the Holy Spirit to wrestle with these things. I learned that history matters. It can teach us a lot. We each hold many assumptions and presuppositions, and those all have a history to them. I believe these are critical issues because I believe that truth matters, scripture matters, and what & who one has faith in matters. I don’t want to hold dear verses like John 3:16 …reveling in the love of God and feeling great, and forget that the Church, which was established by Christ, is also the body of Christ and the bride of Christ — something visible, living, breathing, acting, unified, in the world, reflecting Christ, and connected year over year through tradition, scripture, and structure. We believe in Christ by being a part of His Body. Belief is not about feelings only, or even mostly. One has to choose.
I have to care, make wise judgements, and then choose. I cannot not care. I cannot not choose.
The following video is of a traditional Latin, or Tridentine, Mass in Paris (so you will hear both Latin and French). What the video does not say is that this is a Mass of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), taking place at their only Paris church, Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet. However (I say “however” because SSPX is nearly, but not quite, a schismatic church), I love this video for how it captures the sense of ordinary humanity attending a Mass, and of the beauty of the 1962, pre-Vatican II Latin Mass. I wish dearly such masses occurred in my home town.* I love the Latin, I love the solemnity — I believe our world today is craving solemnity and true worship. I would like to see more videos of this, or better quality from parishes that have actual canonical status in the Catholic Church.
NOTE: I am no fan of the SSPX, but I think they have some valid concerns. This letter of caution sums up my feelings fairly well. I get the struggles some Catholics have with all the changes and turmoil in the Church since the roots of modernism and complacent sluggishness began rotting the core (heart? passions? justifications?) of the Church in the early parts of the last century, and then the winds of the radical 1960’s rushed through the Church, as they did through all of society. Some want to blame the Second Vatican Council, but I don’t believe it. The Church has suffered since the sixties, just as it has at many times in its history, and those times become the soil from which a better Church grows — it is the constant process of reformation that has gone on since St. Peter denied Christ, and the Corinthians were sowing disunity among themselves, and the Galatians were being foolish with their doctrine. We should welcome the past fifty+ years like we welcome suffering — not wishing it on anyone else, but willing to embrace it personally for its deeper value. (Keep in mind I say this being a Catholic less than three years.) I honestly think we might be on the verge of something like a new rebirth of the Church. We typically don’t know what we have lost until we have lost it. But it takes time, not as long as geologic time, but it can feel that way. Regardless, I am not a fan of the SSPX because I can smell Protestantism from a long ways away, having spent forty-seven years of my life in that world, and now am a Catholic happy to not be protesting anymore. Beware Catholics, don’t play with fire. I know that spirit of protest, and of pride, which is the real rot at the heart of the SSPX. Rebellion is not the same as true reformation. One is of pride, the other of humility. HOWEVER, I firmly believe there are many good Christians attending SPPX masses (for a variety of reasons), just as there are many good Christians in other Protestant churches. AND I pray for reconciliation. AND, given Pope Francis has granted SSPX priests the ability to licitly provide absolution during the Jubilee Year of Mercy one can probably hope even more confidently.
* Lately we have been attending a slightly more traditional Mass at the oldest (though not truly very old) parish in our town. Though in the Ordinary Form, and with the priest facing the people (with which I don’t have an issue), the Mass is very solemn, and we sing the Gloria in Latin, with a few other parts in Latin. There is also an organ for musical accompaniment, and at least one song is from the St. Michael Hymnal. I find myself nearly overcome with emotion at times.
Apollos was one of the major figures in the early Church. Remember those ugly divisions in the church at Corinth that we discover in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, where he says:
For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you. I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided?
Apollos was so influential and popular that some Christians were even claiming to be his followers in rivalry to those who followed Paul or Peter, and even to Christ (which is particularly strange). To stand alongside Peter and Paul in the early church is no small thing. Fortunately the issue was not with Apollos, but with the Corinthians. I find this interesting, but I want to focus on how Apollos got his start. We first hear about him in the Acts of the Apostles:
A Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, an eloquent speaker, arrived in Ephesus. He was an authority on the scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord and, with ardent spirit, spoke and taught accurately about Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the Way [of God] more accurately. And when he wanted to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. After his arrival he gave great assistance to those who had come to believe through grace. He vigorously refuted the Jews in public, establishing from the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus.
We first find Apollos in Ephesus preaching the Gospel as he understood it. He came from Alexandria, which is in norther Egypt, a city founded around 331 BC by Alexander the Great. later the city came under Roman rule around 80 B.C.
Eventually Apollos ended up in the city of Ephesus. Most likely he came there around 52-3 A.D. He was a powerful preacher, “an eloquent speaker”, “with ardent spirit”, and “vigorously refuted the Jews”. He probably preached in the allegorical style of Philo, an influential Hellenistic Jewish philosopher who had lived in Alexandria. Later Apollos traveled to Achaia, the northwestern region of the Peloponnese peninsula. This region was a major cultural and trading area, and included the city of Corinth.
Notice that when the apostles came upon Apollos he was already a convert of sorts. The Gospel was not an entirely new message. He was already preaching, spreading some good news, and “spoke and taught accurately about Jesus.” This must have been a startling and wonderful surprise for Priscilla and Aquila. And yet, notice that Apollos did not have the full picture yet. He “knew only the baptism of John,” which means he had some basics, and could call people to repentance, but he did not have the whole story. What exactly he did and did not know is not entirely clear, perhaps he did not know “that the Messiah is Jesus”, or more likely he did not know about Pentecost and the existence of the Church. Whatever it was, Priscilla and Aquila “explained to him the Way [of God] more accurately.”
My post title is meant to be a bit provocative, and certainly tongue-in-cheek, but one could say Apollos was an evangelist who preached baptism (“he knew only the baptism of John”). He heard the call to carry the word of God to others. He “was an authority on the scriptures” which meant he had a solid and powerful foundation. He “taught accurately about Jesus”, but Priscilla and Aquila recognized he did not have the full picture. He was gifted in speech and used his gift, but he did not have the fullness of faith until he was taught it, accepted it, and became a member of that group that was becoming known as Christians, the Church, the Body of Christ.
Imagine if, after having heard the whole story from Priscilla and Aquila, Apollos had rejected them. What if he remained comfortable with the ministry he already had, with the knowledge he already had, with “only the baptism of John” such that he had no interest in the full message of Christ and the Way? What if he had no interest in entering the Church, in becoming a Christian? What if he had rejected the Church, claiming the visible, hierarchical Body of Christ was an invention? One thing for certain, we would very likely not know about him now, for his story would not have made it into scriptures. And if he had rejected them, he probably would have done so by marshaling all his knowledge of scripture, and with his gifts of speech, and fought them in debate. Perhaps he would have defended his “simpler” version of repentance and left the resurrection out of it. Perhaps he would have pointed out that the Christians were adding to the story, and they were including the gentiles in the covenant, and the apostles were claiming authority and handing down their authority to others. He might have rejected the Real Presence, saying the Eucharist is only a symbol. Although, given he was a first century Jew, he likely would have had a sacramental view of religion.
Obviously I’m making a comparison with Protestantism, and specifically with the Baptist version I grew up in. Catholics claim that Protestants are fellow believers, but that they have rejected the fullness of the faith. When faced with the richness of the Catholic faith, most Protestants balk. There are many reasons for this, not least of which is that few Protestants truly know what Catholicism is, largely because they see Catholicism through “lenses” that only distort what they see (though they would argue otherwise). Fortunately Apollos did not protest. Rather, he heard the full story of the Gospel, he believed, and he became a member of the Body of Christ. And then he played an important role in those critical early years of the Church.
Maybe the story of Apollos should be encouragement to Catholics to continue to reach out to their Protestant brethren and explain the Way in all its fullness. And certainly for all of us, the story of Apollos can challenge us to ask if we truly understand the fullness of the faith.