In defense of “Sentire Cum Ecclesia”: Stephen K. “gets it”

I have been asked many times by Brian Coyne to write a defense of the motto “Sentire Cum Ecclesia”, but have never actually gotten around to it. In the combox on a recent post, I falsely accused Stephen K. of “not appreciating where I am coming from”. I withdraw that accusation, because in a comment he posted there, he demonstrates that he does “get it”. In fact, he expressed the meaning that the motto “Sentire Cum Ecclesia” has for me better than I could have done myself.

He writes:

Please believe me when I say I do understand where you are coming from. You clearly have a sound Christian formation and have now embraced Catholicism “in toto”. You see the Catholic Church as the true church and the only church. [A caveat here: only so long as it is properly understood that what we are speaking of here is “the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”, and not a denomination. I fully recognise that the Orthodox Churches are “true particular churches”, and that all who have been baptised and believe in Jesus Christ are my brothers and sisters in Christ’s Church, even if they are in imperfect communion with her] and That church is delineated by conformity-to-the-Popes-and-bishops-in-teaching-concert-with-them (as opposed, say, to the SSPX idea of conformity-with-traditions-of-doctrine [the SSPX is not entirely straight on that score either, of course – see Fr Z’s comments in various places on his blog – as they have their own unauthorised take on said Tradition]). Your wish is to love what the Church does and as she does (I deliberately use the feminine pronoun); you wish to understand things as she does; and you wish to give a personal “fiat” in the manner of the Mary of the Angelus and the saints. You see in the Church – the great, vast, aggregate of fallible humans – a spiritual work of a personal God manifest in the God-man Jesus; you take on wholly Paul’s metaphor that the church, in its human imperfection, is a sign and extension of that “scandal”, “folly” and “stumbling block” that was the ignominious death on Calvary. Thus, you can assert that the Church “belongs” to Jesus in a sense that it is his work, and thus his, and you then would conclude that each and everyone professing to act for or in the interests of the Church should only do what is discerned as the heart and mind of Jesus, and that the only way to discern that is to contemplate on and assent to the teachings of its popes and councils.

I could not have expressed it better myself. My attitude towards the Church is indeed that of Mary to the Angel’s message, namely “Fiat” in every way. Just as she received the Angel as a messenger from God, so I receive the Church with the same “docility” (a word beloved of Pope Benedict XVI, and one that I think should be revived in the vocabulary of the Church).

Stephen goes on to say:

[I was once] one of those who once thought what you did, looking out over Rome and feeling enlarged by a sense of the Church-in-history-and-in-the-eschaton, but who now does not see what I perfectly understand you to think you are seeing. The fact that I do not feel this anymore is no impediment to me appreciating the depth of meaning behind “sentire cum ecclesia”.

Well, I find that sad, and I pray that in time Stephen will find his way back to “Sentire Cum Ecclesia” as I have found my way to it.

He also explains the background to his change of mind, which (as I suspect the case may be for many who find it difficult to own the motto “sentire cum ecclesia”) has its roots in some of the nastier realities of “cultural Catholicism”:

My mother only happened to relate to me the other day how, as a child, she once said to her Anglican uncle, who kept a portrait of his beloved departed wife above his bed, that “she isn’t in heaven because she wasn’t a Catholic”(!). And I remember how I, as a confused 5 year old, knocked the vegemite sandwich out of a little boy’s hand, saying “you’re a dirty Public!” (I was suitably roughed up by his older brother who came to his rescue!).

What do these examples of childish Irish-Australian sectarianism have to do with the attempts by an erudite, articulate webmeister [who, not only demonstrates a theological facility and knowledge that appears superior to many of his Catholic table guests but has made an adult and courageous (and rational) decision to convert – something that the cradle Catholics cannot usually boast] to probe and examine a wide range of religious and theological themes?

Why, simply this: the vast number of census Catholics – even those who attend TLMs – have any variety of combination of imprecise or inaccurate notions of what their religion is all about, or the implications of some of the teachings, and I strongly believe that it behoves the erudite to be careful with language that might foster self-satisfaction or superiority.

He ends by saying: “I hope you now appreciate that I do understand you as much as you understand me.”

I do, Stephen, and I apologise for getting you so wrong. Thank you very much for your contribution.

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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2 Responses to In defense of “Sentire Cum Ecclesia”: Stephen K. “gets it”

  1. Pingback: Babies in Church (part VIII): judge your mother, o child (the tragic necessity of the Reformation) « theology like a child

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