"the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church"

There is a classic scene in “Life of Brian” where they say: “Why do you keep going on about women, Stan?” and Stan (after a moment’s hesitation) says: “I want to be one.”

PE wants to know why, in conversation with Protestants, we keep on going on about “the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church.” He says that this tendancy proves we Catholics make a “God” out of the Church. It all ends up with “sola ecclesia”.

Why DO we keep going on about the Catholic Church? The reason is very simple. Let’s try an analogy.

Imagine a Lutheran in conversation with a Calvinist. The Calvinist and the Lutheran will both agree on many things. They will certainly agree that justification is by faith alone and that the bible is the sole source and norm of all Christian doctrine. They might even agree on infant baptism. But they will part company on a crucial issue–the same crucial issue that Zwingli and Luther parted company on back in 1529, namely: the Lord’s Supper.

As Martin Luther did then, so today. In dispute with a Calvinist (or any other species of Reformed Christian) the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, that is, the insistance that when Christ said “This is my body” he meant that the bread of the Lord’s Supper is his true body born of the Virgin Mary etc., will be the crucial issue. Unless the Reformed/Calvinist can assent to this, they cannot be in communion with the Lutherans.

As Zwingli did then, the Calvinist/Reformed Christian will today say to the Lutheran: Why do you keep going on about the Real Presence? “The Real Presence, the Real Presence, the Real Presence.” Don’t you think that you might not be making a “God” out of the Real Presence? Aren’t you making this “sola the Real Presence”?

To which, in reply, the Lutheran can only shake his head and say “My Calvinist friend doesn’t get it. How can he say that I am “making a god” out of the Real Presence when the Real Presence IS my God in flesh and blood? How can I conceive of a Christianity without the Lord’s Supper? Without the Real Presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper there is no church.”

So you see? In the Lutheran view (Catholic too, but that is irrelevant here), the Real Presence is essential to the Christian faith. But the Calvinist/Reformed Christian denies this essential element. Therefore, in the dialogue with one another, this will be the chief issue between Reformed and Lutheran Christians.

The analogy is this: in the dialogue between Catholic and Protestant Christians, the necessity of the Catholic Church per se is the point of contention. We go on and on about “the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church” because it is the point on which we differ. We could go on about “The Holy Trinity, the Holy Trinity, the Holy Trinity”, or “Baptism, baptism, baptism”, or “faith, faith, faith”, or “Christ, Christ, Christ”, but the essential necessity of these for our faith is not in dispute between us.

The essential neccesity of the Church IS. And that is why we keep banging on about it.

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172 Responses to "the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church"

  1. Kiran says:

    Christine, yes. What our parents said was “I do” as well. Doesn’t change the necessity of future interaction. I don’t know why you would think that the saints need the attributes of divinity. I don’t at all see that God can’t will it, nor that it isn’t not only fitting, but like the Real Presence, almost necessary. And lastly, the saints hear and grant (at the risk of offending your ears) because God gives them the power to hear and grant. The point is that we are human and interact with other human beings, many of them. The fact of some human beings being in heaven doesn’t change that. We interact with them, and in a sense, it is a very good thing.

  2. christl242 says:

    And of course in heaven we are all deified and divinized by the Divine splendour, the Beatific Vision, so that (while remaining in essence men), we are lifted up and supernaturalized to an unspeakable glory as befits the children of God.

    I have no problem with theosis properly understood. That still gives no evidence whatsoever that the saints are given the ability to hear the prayers of millions of human beings simultaneously.

    I don’t at all see that God can’t will it, nor that it isn’t not only fitting, but like the Real Presence, almost necessary. And lastly, the saints hear and grant (at the risk of offending your ears) because God gives them the power to hear and grant).

    Once again, the classic Roman approach to make something “fit” on a philosophical basis. Pure speculation. I would also disagree with you that the intercession of the saints is “necessary.” That they intercede for us is beyond doubt. That we are required to invoke them is not.

    Here’s an interesting little response from a priest at St. Barnabas Catholic Church in Northfield, Ohio:

    How do you explain why Catholics pray to the saints?

    We don’t…… If we want, we can ask the saints to pray with us or for us, but prayer itself is directed to God. From the earliest times of Christian history, our community has believed that at death, life is changed, but not ended. Soooooo….. people whom we love and respect as good people are still there/here to help us. It’s called the “Communion of Saints.” Just as they helped us on earth, we believe that they still love us and want to help us from heaven, just as a good friend would here and now. It’s like I believe my dad, who died almost 13 years ago now, is a saint. I talk to him everyday and ask him to continue to help me live life, as he did when he was physically here with me…. Does a Catholic HAVE to talk with the saints? No. Only if it helps you to deepen your relationship with God. – Father Bob (emphasis mine)

    I attended Mass at this parish a few times while I was Catholic. Nothing formally heterodox about it, just your classic “Spirit of Vatican II” parish.


  3. Anonymous says:

    Christine said…

    Lutherans. Reformed. Roman Catholics. Orthodox. Evangelicals. Pentecostals.

    And there we have it. The Church catholic.”

    And William Tighe responded…

    Who ever heard of, spoke of, acknowledged the existence of such a fictitious non-ens as “the church catholic” throughout the first 1500 years of Chrisianity? But say instead,

    “Novatianists. Donatists. Meletians. Catholics. Arians. Macedonians. Montanists.

    And there we have it. The Church catholic.”

    If the first is true in 2009, the second must have been equally true in 409. (Endquote)

    No, even the magisterium of the Catholic church makes a distinction. Unitatis Redintegratio states that “what is wrought by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our separated brethren can contribute to our own edification…” Did the Catholic Church of Augustine’s day say anything remotely similar about the Donatists? Also, specifically regarding the reformation, the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that (1) “Men of both sides were to blame,” and (2) “One cannot charge with the sin of separation those who at present are born into these communities and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ… they therefore have a right to be called Christians…”

    Why such different language with respect to groups (say, Donatists and Lutherans) who would logically be similarly situated according to Catholic ecclesiology? Does any of our resident church history experts know how long the Donatists persisted as an identifiable community? If only for a generation, then virtually all of them would have been in a position of consciously rejecting the Catholic Church, as opposed to those who have been born into and nurtured “in the faith of Christ” by a Church (or ecclesial community, if you insist) which even the Catholic church acknowledges conveys “elements of sanctification and truth”?

    In other words, although some Protestants may define themselves primarily by opposition to Rome, in many cases we are where we are primarily out of gratitude and affection for the people and institutions that have nurtured and continued to nurture our faith, and yearn for the day when we are not compelled to make a choice which, either way, leaves us out of communion with beloved brothers and sisters. I realize that the Catholic Church still says we are called to “the fullness of unity” or something like that, but I think she also acknowledges that we are related to her in a different and closer way than were the Donatists.

    Jon Edwards

  4. William Tighe says:

    According to the late W. H. C. Frend, in his book on the Donatists, there were still Donatists in North Africa at the time of the Muslim Conquest of the Maghreb in the 690s, nearly 400 years after the split — just as there were Montanists in their old homeland of Phrygia until well into the Seventh Century. There were Novatianist and Arian bishops in (or “of”) Constantinople until at least the beginning of the Sixth Century — and, of course, there was a Visigothic Arian Church right down to 589, when King Reccared turned Catholic, and went on to suppress the Arians.

    The traditions of these groups was as “venerable” (in terms of age) as those stemming from the Reformation, and in terms of Church Order the Novatianists (particularly) and the Donatists, as well as the Arians, were as close to that as the Catholics, if not far closer, than any Reformation denomination or confession.

  5. Joshua says:

    And when the Visigoths under King Reccared abjured Arianism, all their bishops and clergy (likewise converting) were allowed to keep their sees and churches, providing a good early model for corporate reunion.

  6. Past Elder says:

    Well, given that “Church Order” was not the question in the Donatist matter but who may occupy its offices, of course “Church Order” was similar, and given that Donatism itself is not at issue here, what is the point … oh, I forgot, you will be assimilated, that is always the point here.

  7. William Tighe says:


    The “assimilation” (heh, heh) of the Visigothic Arians may have been asissted by the fact that (if an article that I read in the *Journal of Ecclesiastical History* some years ago is correct) they had very few bishops even at their heyday in Spain, the Arian Church seemingly being, in effect, an ethnic church of the Gothic elite (rather like the situation in Ostrogothic Italy, and unlike that in Vandal Africa, where the Vandals attempted to coerce Catholics and Donatists alike into accepting Arianism).

    If the Lombards (who ruled much of Italy from 569 to 773, and parts of the Mezzogiorno for another 250 years) were Arians, then perhaps there was an Arian Church among the Lombards for a century after 569, but in recent years it has been strongly argued that the Lombards may have been pagans when they came to Italy.

  8. Kiran says:

    Christine, you don’t need to talk to your parents either. In some cases it is even a bad thing to do so. But under normal circumstances, one ought to. In some circumstances, not to do so would also be presumptuous. Likewise with asking for the intercession of the saints.

  9. christl242 says:

    Kiran, when I talked to my parents they were in the same room with me.

    You, as a former Anglican have your own reasons for swimming the Tiber.

    My ten years as a Roman Catholic gave me all I needed to know about why I no longer need to be one.


  10. Kiran says:

    Christine, I am sure you talk to your parents on the phone as well. In some cases, as I can attest, this is almost a necessity, and one would be unreasonable to quibble at the necessity.

    stishes: Humorous stoushes

  11. Joshua says:

    Please no disrespect, Christine, but you have admitted that (1) you did not accept and hold all Roman doctrine and (2) you attended the sort of deadly mediocre parishes that are in fact the bastard children of a hermeneutic of discontinuity that de facto has taken over, but which is not a true representation of what the Catholic Church seeks to be.

    Against PE, who argues (as I surmise you accept) that this practical apostasy proves that Catholicism is false else it would not have so blatantly lapsed into “infantile claptrap” (to quote BXVI), I assert that it is vital for those wishing to be Catholics to fight against these misinterpretations and heteropraxies, which in any case will soon enough perish of inanition.

    If I had simply gone along with the usual miasmatic parish life, I’d by now be hell knows where, completely confused doctrinally and morally! – “up a kangaroo track” as a bishop of my acquaintance put it. I’ve followed his advice (including his observation from bitter experience that “being ultramontane isn’t enough” – since, to use a Wild West image, if you wait for the cavalry to come over the hill, well, there are no cavalry – and that therefore one must be a traditionalist), and found that “the old is better”.

    Unlike PE, whom I do respect for his incisive if difficult-to-follow satire and evident pursuit of truth, I continue – with reason, I believe – to think that there has been no essential discontinuity between Christ’s commissioning of St Peter and the current ministry of Pope Benedict XVI; and I certainly do not countenance the doctrinal deviations of the Reformation, the Enlightenment, or the post-Conciliar desert wanderings of the benighted faithful.

  12. Past Elder says:

    The benighted faithful’s post-Conciliar desert wanderings are only the natural result of the desert wandering that was the Council itself.

    As new threads open up and this one is about to head for archives, I refer to my comment, number 54 I think, on the “email from a reader” comment thread.

  13. christl242 says:

    Please no disrespect, Christine, but you have admitted that (1) you did not accept and hold all Roman doctrine and (2) you attended the sort of deadly mediocre parishes that are in fact the bastard children of a hermeneutic of discontinuity that de facto has taken over, but which is not a true representation of what the Catholic Church seeks to be.

    Joshua, let me make very clear that in the initial phase of my membership as a Catholic I did accept what the church teaches. It was a long process of discernment that the catholic Church still is to be found in the Catholic Church but not as I knew it as a child. It wasn’t just a matter of attending a “bastardized” parish here and there. Truth be told none of the parishes I attended could have beebn accused of heterodoxy in and of itself although the banality of the liturgy and music was hard to bear. It was subtle things. For example, as an LCMS Lutheran I still celebrate the Circumcision of Jesus. As a Catholic it was Mary, Mother of God which has now morphed into “World Peace Day.”

    The last time I attended Mass I looked around and saw how few people genuflected before the tabernacle anymore.

    Many times I heard older parishioners lament that so much had changed since the council. And it has. “On the books” it may look like process and liberation theology are gone but they are not and it has infected how the church sees herself since the council and what she believes her mission to be.

    My views will never make sense to you and that’s okay. I have Catholic family that I cherish and I’ve known many fine individual Catholics who are dedicated Christians. The catholic Church can still be found in the Catholic Church.

    But for me it is no longer home.

  14. christl242 says:

    Oh, one more thing. A little vindication of my earlier thesis above from Professor Paul Meyendorff of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary:

    Liturgy is the work of the entire people of God (the laos tou theou), and not, as was the case in both pagan and Jewish antiquity, the task of a clerical caste. In the New Testament, the concept of “priesthood” is applied in two ways. First, Christ is presented as the only highpriest; this is the main theme of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Christ is the one who intercedes for us before the throne of the Father, who offers up a sacrifice once for all. By this act, the Old Testament priesthood is finished, or rather, it is perfectly fulfilled in the person of Christ, who remains our highpriest for all eternity. Second, the New Testament extends the concept of priesthood to all Christians: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (1 Pt 2:9). This is an extension of Christ’s own priesthood, for the Church is nothing less than the Body of Christ, charged with carrying out Christ’s own priestly ministry in the world. When a person is baptized, he or she “puts on Christ” (Gal 3:27), becomes a member of the Body of Christ, and therefore a sharer in Christ’s priesthood. It is significant that the term “priest” (hiereus) is never used in the New Testament for either bishop (episkopos = overseer) or presbyter (presbyteros = elder).

    A much better understanding of the priesthood of the laity than sometimes seen in Rome.


  15. Joshua says:

    How facile: you are imagining things if you don’t realize that Catholics would agree with every word quoted.

  16. christl242 says:

    Oh really, Joshua?

    Here’s what the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia says:

    The bishop is truly a priest (sacerdos), and even a high-priest; he has chief control of the Divine worship (sacrorum antistes), is the president of liturgical meetings; he has the fullness of the priesthood, and administers all the sacraments. The second degree belongs to the priest (presbyter), who is also a sacerdos, but of the second rank (“secundi sacerdotes” Innocent I ad Eugub.); by his priestly ordination he receives the power to offer sacrifice (i.e. to celebrate the Eucharist), to forgive sins, to bless, to preach, to sanctify, and in a word to fulfil the non-reserved liturgical duties or priestly functions.

    The sacerdotal language has been written back into what the New Testament says. Again, the Catholic church making her presuppositions “fit” the text. This language speaks more in the mode of the OT that the New.

    Jesus didn’t ordain anyone as a “priest” at the Last Supper. But Roman state religion had plenty of priests.


  17. Joshua says:

    What a bitter little comment, Christine.

    Feeling Anti-Catholic today?

  18. Vicci says:

    Christine 1 – 0 Joshua

    Back to the books for you, young man!

  19. christl242 says:

    Anti-Catholic? With a Catholic father, husband, and a horde of Catholic in-laws?

    Hardly. It wasn’t me who wrote the text for the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia.

    Just stating the facts, sir.

    If anything, I feel compassion for the Catholics who remain in the church and are being sold a bill of goods.


  20. Joshua says:

    You missed the whole point – of course the NT doesn’t use the term you quoted; but neither does it use the word “Trinity” or “homoousios”, both of which I assume even Lutherans assert to be dogmatically necessary terms for expressing our belief in the mystery of God as Three-in-One and of Christ being consubstantial with His Father. The use of sacerdos or whatnot is in the same category: a word not used in Scripture that is appropriated to best express the fact that, though all Christians are priests, sharing the common priesthood of the faithful, their ministers are true priests of the New Testament (and yes, “Do this in memory of me” was the phrase whereby Christ ordained the Apostles), and their ministerial priesthood differs in kind not merely in degree from the priesthood of all believers. It is obvious from the Apostolic Fathers down the ages that the Fathers of the Church saw bishops, priests and deacons as ordained ministers. Let us reduce this to absurdity: if there is no distinct grade of clergy, one has the Calvinistic madness of “lay presidency” as promoted by the Sydney Anglicans; and the ancient liturgies of the Church, Orthodox and other Eastern Christian, testify abundantly to the truth that the priest at the altar is truly offering sacrifice. I hold firm to the Vincentian Canon in this: what has been believed always, everywhere and by everyone must be true; and none but a few mediæval heretics ever doubted the Mass was a sacrifice till a certain Dr Luther came along.

    Vicci, as a holder of a Bachelor’s degree in Theology, I rather resent being told what you presumed to write. Manners, girl, manners!

  21. Schütz says:

    Good grief, guys, give it a rest! I’ve only just discovered where you have all been lately. I’ve put up some new posts, how about addressing those and letting this marathon come to an end?

    (P.S. I have just printed off all these comments to read at bedtime, and it has taken up 40 pages!)

  22. Vicci says:

    David, David, David…
    (for a Catholic) may I say:
    ‘what a poor sense of History!’

    173 post locked in, a chance to set a record THAT MAY NEVER BE BETTERED..and you want to pull the plug? !!

    ( is this some sort of Lenten thing…?)

    shading (true!)
    What the Lutherans are doing to the Catholics -debate wise- on this blog!! ;>

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