Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Skin-deep spirituality


Last but by no means least, Catholicism has the most sublime spirituality and devotional spirit, manifested in a thousand different ways, from the monastic ideal, to the heroic celibacy of the clergy and religious, the Catholic hospitals, the sheer holiness of a Thomas a Kempis or a St. Ignatius and their great devotional books, countless saints - both canonized and as yet unknown and unsung, Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, Pope John XXIII, the early martyrs, St. Francis of Assisi, the events at Lourdes and Fatima, the dazzling intellect of John Henry Cardinal Newman, the wisdom and insight of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, St. John of the Cross, the sanctified wit of a Chesterton or a Muggeridge, elderly women doing the Stations of the Cross or the Rosary, Holy Hour, Benediction, kneeling - the list goes on and on. This devotional spirit is unmatched in its scope and deepness, despite many fine counterparts in Protestant and Orthodox spirituality.



Sounds pretty inspiring, right? Try this small experiment: merely graze the epidermis of Catholic piety--a minor scratch or pinprick will do--and watch what comes crawling out into the light!


Mr. White is an ignorant bigot who has no academic credentials. He was raised by bigots to be a bigot and would parade around in a white sheet burning crosses on people's lawns if there was any money in it.




  1. Have you ever read anti-Catholic Chick tracts? In every single one of them Jack Chick depicts some Catholic as an ignorant sheep who trusted "mother church" and ended up in hell instead. I'd say that Protestants, especially those of the Reformed variety, can be just as narrow-minded (and in some cases more so) than Roman Catholics. So what's your point?

    By the way, I just discovered your debates with Daniel and Perry and thought you might find this interesting:


    It covers the whole Monergism-being-declared-heresy and St. Maximos the Confessor thing pretty thoroughly -- for a dia-blog anyway.

  2. What's my point? You've just argued for moral equivalence. That a Protestant polemicist can be just as bad as a Catholic polemicist. I don't deny that.

    But Armstrong wasn't bidding for moral equivalence. He set is sights higher. He was bidding for moral superiority. His church is a cut above. That's the claim. And that's the point of my counter-argument. This is by no means a knock-down argument against Catholicism. But it does puncture that particular balloon--not this example alone, but others like it.

  3. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that because Protestants do it, it's okay for Catholics to do it. But quoting one Catholic's bitter diatribe hardly punctures the balloon, because the Catholic church is not made of one person. Your argument is tantamount to saying that because a Christian person I know is a hypocrite, Christians are therefore hypocrites. I'm not buying it.

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  5. David, I think you have to see it this way: (speaking for myself) I'd never state as a reason for me being a Protestant that it's because Protestants have a superiour history of following Jesus' two great commandments (for instance), which is the type of thing Armstrong was saying in that 150th Reason he is a Roman Catholic. Because I don't base being a Protestant on what humans have done or on what has been accomplished in society by Protestants, but by Biblical doctrine such as the five solas. And if I were to make a statement for Protestantism such as Armstrong made for Roman Catholicism in that 150th Reason you would be doing me a favor by immediately giving me an example that punctures a whole in that balloon, just as Steve Hays punctured a hole in Dave's balloon.

    And S.H. did say 'as a knock down argument' against RCism it is a weak argument, and of course it is, but in the context of what Armstrong wrote it serves a purpose.

    Having said the above I'll put the Calvinists in general and the Puritans in particular up against any era or group or individual within the RC domain as a measure of greatness for Christians (however one would want to not vainly measure that).

  6. K7:

    A Christian may say that one of His reasons for being a Christian is its moral superiority. But as not all Christians act morally superior to non-Christians, should we then conclude (as many skeptics do) that Christianity in and of itself is not morally superior? This is exactly what Steve has done with Catholicism. Armstrong states that one of his reasons for being Catholic is its "most sublime spirituality and devotional spirit, manifested in a thousand different ways..." So Steve pulls out the big guns and shows that a certain Catholic had some very unsublime and undevotional things to say about a Protestant apologist. If it is wrong to hastily characterize Christianity by what some of its representatives do, why does it "serve a purpose" in debating Roman Catholicism in particular? I don't think it really does; it's just another petty argument by someone with obvious anti-Catholic sentiments.

  7. Thoughts:

    (1) The only reason to go with something is because it is true.
    If Romanism is true, then I have to go with it, like it or not, and they, like it or not, have to put up with a cranky pedantic guy like me. It is debatable who gets the worse end of the deal here! =D

    (2) The behavior of alleged adherents relates to the sociological question of how consistently adherents follow whatever something teaches, not
    whether the something behind the teachings in fact is true.

    (3) Reason #150 for the alleged superiority of Romanism is a poor reason. But then, the other 149 reasons given in the link fail to be decisive either, so one shouldn't be surprised when the 150th reason is likewise poor.
    [A sum of 150 zeroes is still a zero, and a series of silly arguments does not equate with one solid reason.]

    (4) The certain RC that Hays quotes from the Envoy link is himself an apologist with an appreciable circle and has a large track record of such behavior, which example given is a more mild specimen. This isn't an isolated lapse, but part of a consistent pattern of behavior.

    (5) Chick tracts, agreed, are not really good portrayals of most Catholics. In my personal experience, RC's and even those who teach or preach in the RC church are far more secular and liberal in their mindeset than the RC's in a Chick tract. [The business end of RCism seems far more liberal than the little clique of Victorian Romanism that online apologists espouse.]

    Chick gets my goat with his KJV-only agenda, btw. I may very well be consigned to the eternal flames myself on this basis!


  8. David--a few comments to clarify my intent and put things in perspective:
    1.I'm on record as having said that there is a place for discussing a popularizer inasmuch as a popularizer may have a wider audience than a more sophisticated spokesman. So it is not inconsistent of my to draw attention to Sippo or Madrid or Armstrong.
    2.I'm also on record as having said that we should try to judge a belief-system, not on the basis of a popularizer, but on the basis of its most astute and authoritative spokesmen. And you will see, in my many essays and exchanges on this subject, that I've gone to great pains to do just that.
    3.As a rule, I think that a religious belief-system should be judged by is internal consistency, or lack thereof, it's consistency with Scripture, or lack thereof, and its general degree of philosophical/evidentiary warrant.
    4.However, I find that I'm being more high-minded than the opposition. When I quote from the magisterium, or someone approved by the magisterium, I'm told that this doesn't count. And I'm then referred to someone who is not a member of the magisterium or approved by the magisterium to defend the RC faith.
    5.And, as a practical matter, the magisterium does generally delegate the defense of the RC faith to the laity or a lowly priest. So we're right back to the popularizers. Back to Sippo, Madrid, Armstrong, &c. This is not my preferred standard for judging Catholicism, but that's the default standard I'm often left with.
    6.The example of Sippo is minor matter. I never claimed otherwise. However, his public remark was so far over the line that I thought it merited public comment.
    7. It is not just Sippo. It is the additional fact that Matrid gives a public platform for such a remark. Matrid publishes these inspirational conversion stories (the Surprised by Truth series), and then, when we go through the door, this is the sort of thing we find on the other side. To me, the discrepancy between the glowing ad and what you actually find when you open the box is striking.
    8.This is not my "big gun." There are much bigger guns. There is, for example, the pedophile priest scandal, which involves a systematic moral failure on the part of the hierarchy from the top down (the Vatican, US bishops).
    9.Finally, there is also a point of principle in all of this. In traditional RC theology, grace is channeled through the sacraments. Hence, to have the grace of God, you must have access to valid sacraments. And valid sacraments (baptism, communion) are contingent on apostolic succession and valid orders. Now, some "schismatic" bodies like the Anglican church do retain a hook in apostolic succession. Hence, their sacraments are still deemed to be valid. But many evangelical bodies have no hook in apostolic succession.
    In terms of traditional RC theology, Catholics, on balance, ought to be more holy than many Evangelicals because they have all that sacramental grace chugging through their veins whereas we are literally graceless.
    Now, I realize that in light of post-Vatican II theology, the pipeline has been radically expanded. But that has been achieved at the expense of internal consistency.