“Vatican stresses Protestant inferiority”

I took CNN off my RSS feed some time ago, and I would be lying if I said my life didn’t get a little better as a result. Who needs 24-hour-a-day bombardment with superficial and sensationalist headlines? Every once in a while, it’s entertaining . . . but slogging through the RSS listings is bad for the soul.

On July 9 I visited the CNN site, taking a short break from an unusually productive day. I was rewarded immediately by the following headline, shown here just above “Pizza guy gets death”:
cnn_prot_infer

It’s not really what the article is about. And the Vatican document doesn’t really “stress the inferiority of Protestants”. (An English translation of the document can be read at Sandro Magister’s very good Chiesa website. The document is called “Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church.”)

It will be tempting for any non-Catholic, as for liberal, anti-traditionalist Catholics, to trust the headline, while not even bothering to read the 5-page Vatican document, or bothering to remember that the popular media all hate the Catholic Church. (They hate the doctrinally rigorous type of Protestant, too, of course.)

I was asked by one Protestant and one disaffected Catholic what I thought of the pope’s “anti-ecumenical” comments. I said basically the same thing to both:

To call it “Benedict’s statement” is a little misleading, since he merely approved it. The document itself was done by Cardinal Levada, former archbishop of San Francisco and current head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The phrase “Benedict’s statement” also implies, to some, that this new document taking Catholicism in a direction different from John Paul II’s time. (This is the surprisingly popular antithesis, resting on nothing, that JPII was kind, gentle, and inclusive, and BXVI is mean, cold, and parochial.) But that is not true, since the document “Dominus Iesus” (2000) was approved by JPII, and carries the same message as this new document.

For any true ecumenism whatsoever to be successful, both parties need to be honest about where they stand. The Catholic Church has just done Protestants a big favor by showing them all their cards. No trickery here: this and exactly this is what we believe. This is what we have to work with. To its credit, CNN quotes a CDF official saying just this:

Father Augustine Di Noia, under-secretary for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said the document did not alter the commitment for ecumenical dialogue, but aimed to assert Catholic identity in those talks.

“The Church is not backtracking on ecumenical commitment,” Di Noia told Vatican radio.

“But, as you know, it is fundamental to any kind of dialogue that the participants are clear about their own identity. That is, dialogue cannot be an occasion to accommodate or soften what you actually understand yourself to be.”

A realistic roadblock to ecumenism, however, lies in the fact that the standard Protestant understanding of “church” tends to be “the invisible number of the elect, known only to God,” whereas this Catholic document stresses the visible, historically continuous church stretching backward to the apostles. In the visible sense, Protestants can’t say they are THE original church that Jesus established, since they didn’t exist till the 16th century. (Yes, I know there are rebuttals to this . . . it’s an old polemical issue.)

Catholic ecclesiology also presupposes, as is set out in the new document, that a true church will have a valid sacrament of Holy Orders, which puts it in historical continuity with the apostles. Obviously, Protestants don’t count this as a sacrament. The East does, though, which is why the document calls it a true church, whereas the Protestant churches are really not “churches” in the true sense, but rather “Christian communities.”

As for Catholics thinking that Protestant churches are “defective”—what’s new? This has been their position from Day One. And since Day One the feeling has been mutual (though “feeling” is a weak word for this). If you were to get all the Protestants together to issue a statement about the Catholic Church, it’s guaranteed that they would say something similar. But Protestants aren’t as well organized, so instead of a worldwide press event, you end up with millions of parents and untold pastors teaching their children and congregants about the “errors” of the RC Church.

– – – – – – – – – – –

Responding to the document as a whole, my dissident Catholic friend, who happens also to be a member of a lay religious order, tried to point out to me that “Christ didn’t found a church—he gave certain teachings, and then people built a church around those teachings after he was gone.” I asked: “What does the verse in the Gospels mean, then, when it says ‘You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church’?” His reply was unexpected: “How do we know he said that? Who wrote the Gospels? Do we know who wrote them?”

I asked him how he knows that Jesus actually said all the things he likes. Really, if you’re going to approach the Bible cafeteria-style, your faith is based ultimately on nothing more than your own feelings. And in that case, you don’t need a Bible, or Christ, or any church . . . you can just believe what you like, and live your life accordingly.

And a random note to finish off: my dissident friend told me that I was the only person who actually liked Benedict XVI. I had to ask him how he accounted for the doubling of attendance at the Wednesday audiences at St. Peter’s since Benedict’s election, or for the nearly doubling of the worldwide financial donations to the Holy See (in the annual “Peter’s Pence” collection). Unless huge, cheering crowds and skyrocketing donations indicate unpopularity, I’d say I’m not alone in liking BXVI.

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8 Responses to ““Vatican stresses Protestant inferiority””

  1. Sue Ann Edwards Says:

    I was raised a cradle Catholic and the thing that impressed me the most about The Church’s statement, was how many limits were drawn when it comes to Loves extension. Or the extension of the Spirit of Acceptance. or the extension of the Spirit of Tolerance, Compassion, Understanding, Mercy and Forgiveness.

    Of course I’ve already discovered it myself, within myself, that I cannot both believe in Guilt AND in Forgiveness. I can’t both cram a crown of thorns on my head or anyone else’s and still prolaim my allegiance to the Lily.

    What ever happened to putting some substance of Christ, some of the qualities displayed through character of responses, in what we consider ‘Christian’?

  2. Curly Says:

    Sue Ann, I didn’t detect any of these things in the statement itself. I don’t really understand your other points.

  3. Sue Ann Edwards Says:

    I’m commenting upon the foundation of the interpretaton of the Scriptures of The Church being prejudice, biased, with attitudes of supremacy. It’s hard to miss this unequal relationship imagined between ‘Catholics’ and ‘those who are not’.

    This is not what Christ would say.

    All That Is, is ALL That Is. The very idea of a ‘them who are not’ contradicts and undermines the very concept of an Absolute. And the concept of an Absolute is the very foundation of the Nicean Creed.

  4. Curly Says:

    I doubt that Christ would take a mushy, “we’re all equal, no matter what we believe” approach. It’s a simple fact that not all things are equal in this world. Moreover, some beliefs and practices are mutually exclusive.

    Aphorisms such as “all that is is all that is” sound profound but seem to me more like an aversion to rational distinctions. And it certainly does not follow that all who make logical distinctions lack charity, which seems to be your assumption.

    From my perspective you sound like a victim of the misapplied spirit of Vatican II, who consequently received a poor educational formation in the Catholic Church. Don’t take a temporary low point in the Church as emblematic of its whole history, truth, and wisdom.

  5. Sue Ann Edwards Says:

    ‘Love others as I have Loved you’, was the edict.

    It is Mankind, that is wishy washy.

    Any concept of an Abolute, will be Absolute. It will be all emcompasssing and all embracing. ANY exclusions what so ever represent a contradiction in thought.

    No matter how many of us fossilized fools choose to believe otherwise.

  6. Curly Says:

    Great! Since God is an “all emcompasssing abolute” I think I’ll go out and commit some murders, maybe rob a few people, blaspheme, etc. God can’t “exclude” me, or he’d be contradicting his own nature!

    Seriously, you have to overlook a lot of the Bible (if you’re looking to the Bible at all) in order to cook up this bizarre Jesus you seem to believe in.

  7. Sue Ann Edwards Says:

    Contradictions nullifying the Principal of ‘Absolute’ are what makes up the foundations for Unprincipaled men.

    If we sow prejudice, bias, and arrogant attitudes of supremacy, is it any wonder, according to Universal Law of ‘reaping and sowing’, that we recieve attitudes of bias, prejudice and arrogance aimed right back at us. Would have thought the Holocaust had taught us at least that much about what the harvest of the seeds of prejudice bring. Doesn’t really matter that is was religious prejudice, religious bias and religious attitudes that were the seeds. It still produced a harvest of results that weren’t pleasnt for those who believed in them, did it?

    I cite substance of character, Christ’s substance of character: Understanding, Tolerance, Acceptance, Forgiveness and Mercy.

    And say the Pope is an empty vessel.

    And simply because your mind cannot grasp what I am conveying, does not make me ‘wrong’. It simply means your Understanding is limited. Just like one whom you admire.

    Funny, how we all become whatever we view as our ideal. I simply say the Pope worships a lesssor God then Christ did.

  8. Curly Says:

    Yes, Sue Ann, you are all-knowing.

    You are so right. The Holocaust was all about religious prejudice. We need not get into details about what whose prejudice, against what or whom, because that would be “limiting”.

    Puny minds like mine (and Joseph Ratzinger’s) will never be able to attain your grasp of the Absolute.

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