Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Eulogos and the Constitution of the United States of America

A converted Roman Catholic blogger who goes by the name of Eulogos, but has openly used her legal name as well, recently posted in a discussion at Red Cardigan that "When I became a Catholic I said 'I Susan Peterson, enlightened by divine grace, and touching with my hand these Holy Gospels, profess the faith which the Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman Church teaches. I believe that Church to be the one true Church which Jesus Christ established on earth, to which I adhere with all my heart'."

She went on to profess belief in the infallibility of the Pope, seven sacraments, the Apostles Creed, and ended her profession of faith with "And anything else which She (The Catholic Church) defines and declares I do believe, and I renounce every heresy and schism which She condemns."

I don't believe a word of it. Where I live in space and time, that confers on me no civil disability. Ms. Peterson, I assume, sincerely believes every word, which confers no civil disability on her. We can both vote, run for office, own property, we pay the same taxes and have the same access to government services. We can each live in any neighborhood each of us can afford. There the matter might rest, were it not for the evangelical impulse which animates the Christian faith, and the claim to supremacy over civil authority which is often generated by belief in the infallibility of the Pope.

One romishgraffiti adds a citation from that church's current Catechism:

2089. Incredulity is the neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it. Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.

I cheerfully and openly embrace schism and heresy by those definitions. (From what I've heard, listening to those who have studied Greek, "heresy" originally meant party or faction, to the entire Vatican edifice is, ipso facto, heresy. Accepted doctrine is merely the heresy in power at the moment.) I cannot plead nolo contendere to apostasy, although a Roman Catholic definition of "the Christian faith" would undoubtedly condemn me of that as well. I plead not guilty to incredulity only by clinging to my own understanding of what is, and is not, revealed truth. Again, a proper Roman definition could no doubt convict me.

If the canon romishgraffiti cites applies only to those who have, like Susan Peterson, freely and voluntarily confessed the Roman Catholic faith, then that canon is none of my business, and I need think no more about it. If it is asserted that this canon applies to me, then it is my privilege to abjure, renounce, and condemn it.

There has always been a conflict between democratic governance, particularly in the absence of an Established Church, and assertions of Absolute Truth by a religious faith. This conflict is by no means limited to the Roman Catholic Church, nor is that church itself free from charges of heresy and schism.

A most amusing contribution to Rod Dreher's discussion of "Is the Protestant Reformation ending?" was an observation that "The Protestant Reformation will never end until the Roman Catholic Church returns to Holy Orthodoxy, because the Pope is the first Protestant." How so? The Bishop of Rome put his individual pronouncements above the collegial leadership of the patriarchs, who recognized his office as first among equals, but not as the ultimate or sole source of authority. Historically, theologically, and doctrinally, is is more than arguable that the Orthodox church is "the one true Church established by Christ and his Apostles," if indeed any church is, and the Roman church a late-breaking offshoot.

In more recent times, the distant offspring of the Protestant Reformation have rebelled against the separation between church and state, that was inspired by their own forefathers (and mothers), demanding immediate political manifestation of Paul's promise that "every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord."

Protestants should know better. When Alexis de Toqueville visited the United States during the 1830s, he noted the profusion of churches, and active participation they inspired by a large part of the population, compared to Europe. Unanimously, any pastor of any church he asked told him the reason was the separation of church and state. The church thrived when freed from what James Madison called "the profane hand of the civil magistrate."

Today, the broadly secular nature of European life and culture are widely bemoaned by the Pope and by evangelical American Protestants alike. The emptiness of churches in Europe can be traced directly to the long history of officially Established churches dependent upon the subsidy of whatever government might be in power. The continued vitality of churches in the United States is the direct result of having no such unholy bonds.

Roman Catholics also benefited, as the Baltimore Catechism used to sternly remind each new generation. There were a few colonists practicing the Roman Catholic faith at the time of the American Revolution, many of whom became active patriots. Although the colonies had a history of brutal persecution of Catholics, both inherited from English politics and inspired by hatred of the rampant Spanish persecution of Protestants and Jews, Catholic patriots were fully accepted into the common cause.

Those early, post-colonial, Catholics adhered to the rituals and theology of their church, but Rome was far away across the broad Atlantic Ocean. Communication took weeks if not months. The Curia seldom paid much attention to affairs in the former British colonies. Besides, there were few enough of them.

There was always an undercurrent in the Roman Church of "OK, since the place is mostly Protestant, freedom of religion is best for us, but when we get a chance, we will restore the supremacy of Our Church." There was always an undercurrent of fear among American Protestants that, indeed, Catholic immigration would lead to the destruction of our secular republic.

It cost Al Smith the presidency in 1928. It was an issue John F. Kennedy laid to rest by affirming that if the electorate offered him the honor of taking an oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States," with his hand on the Bible, it would be an offense against God to break that oath. Sincere Roman supremacists bitterly denounced him for that concession.

Christians who, similar to even the most Orthodox of Jews, are willing to wait patiently for God to establish His Kingdom as he sees fit, in his own good time, have no need to challenge the separation of church and state. One can join with Abraham Lincoln in asserting that "the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether," but acknowledge that "Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them."

Those who preach religious supremacy, whether Orthodox, Roman, Anglican, Lutheran, Calvinist, Jewish, Muslim or Pentecostal, must honestly come to terms with what they really mean to offer their neighbors: the hand of friendship, silent contempt, or the sword. American law fully recognizes the autonomy of any church in governing its own internal affairs, in matters of faith and doctrine, even of church property. Those who claim the unwilling obedience of noncommunicants are enemies of freedom, and of their noncommunicant fellow citizens.

If the doctrine of any church is ambiguous as to the jurisdiction claimed, it is the duty of adherents to clarify exactly what they mean, and say so honestly to all the world. The world will, of course, respond in kind: by their fruits do we know them.