Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Kinky Catholicism

It's customary in some circles to distinguish between Indian philosophy and folk Buddhism or folk Hinduism. However, that doesn't mean folk Hindus and folk Buddhists aren't real Hindus or Buddhists. To the contrary, theirs is the lived religion, as opposed to philosophical abstractions. 

We might draw the same distinction with regard to Catholicism. On the one hand, you have the hoity-toity version of Catholicism promoted by apologists like Called to Communion.

On the other hand, you have folk Catholicism. That's how the Catholic faithful over the centuries have often understood their faith and put that into practice. That's at least as authentic as the sanitized, artificial version put forward by apologists. For instance, consider the cult of the Holy Prepuce:


To my knowledge, the papacy never concemned it. Indeed, it's on all fours with the Catholic cult of relics generally. 

Or take the Lactation of St. Bernard. According to pious tradition, he was praying before a statue of the Madonna when he said: "Show yourself a mother" ("Monstra te esse Matrem"). The statue came to life and squirted breastmilk into his mouth. This is widely represented in European art. Take the rendition by the 17C Spanish priest and artist Alonso Cano:


That's normal Catholic piety. 


Or take the venerable tradition of cephalophores:


5 comments:

  1. Steve: there's the heady atmosphere of Protestant blogs like this, and then there's "folk Protestantism" replete with iconography like "Head of Christ" and "Christ at the United Nations," sappy-crappy hymnody ("I come to the garden alone..."), pop-dispy prophecy-mongering, moralistic therapeutic deism, etc; ie how Protestantism is actually lived out. As much as I like this site's coverage and commentary on papistry, I'm afraid the pot is calling the kettle black here.

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    1. Kirk -- I'm sure Steve is more than capable of responding, but when it comes to Roman Catholicism vs Protestantism, there is always an imbalance, insofar as Rome considers itself to be one "Church" with one ontological reality (all "under one visible head"), whereas Protestantism is a "movement" and even a collection of "movements" with an unfortunately large number of "unaffiliated" movements that go in weird directions.

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    2. Kirk,

      Bad analogy. Catholicism is supposed to be better because it has a living oracle in the papacy. Even if there were comparable problems in Protestantism, to say folk Catholicism and folk Protestantism are equivalent is already a losing proposition for the claims of Rome. To black kettles is not an argument for the superiority of Rome–yet that's what Rome requires.

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    3. John & Steve: as a Lutheran I'm hardly arguing for the superiority of Rome; rather, I'm stating that both camps have a glaring dichotomy between our symbols and the piety which logically follows therefrom, and the reality in the pews, homes, and schools...and this among confessionals. Folk Protestantism is also a losing claim for us, making sola Scriptura into the nose of wax Rome claims it to be.

      Why would Rome condemn relics and their logical consequences anyway, since it is consistent with their theology and a good source of income for the world's largest corporation? True, the Protestant influence in America has tempered the more egregious expression of such (im)piety here, but Rome has always been less of one church than one big tent willing to accommodate paganism as long as it puts money on the plate (eg such missionary activity as mentioned by Bernal Diaz in his /The Conquest of New Spain/). We should know better.

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    4. Depends on what you mean by wax no. Not all interpretations are equally good. It depends on the supporting arguments. But there's no human mechanism that can successfully enforce conformity of behavior.

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