I mentioned yesterday that the Catholic Church is not a denomination but that the term is something more like a redundancy, biblically speaking. Paul says
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all. (Eph 4:4–6).
In other words, he is proclaiming a mystical reality. The gospel is a revelation given to all. So when Paul meets people with a faulty understanding of Jesus, his instinct is always to invite them further in, not drive them away. So, we see scenes like this in Acts:
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve of them in all. (Ac 19:1–7).
He does the same in Athens with the pagans he meets on the Areopagus, taking their own indigenous piety to the Unknown God and declaring “What you worship as unknown I now proclaim to you” and identifying Jesus with the Unknown God they have been seeking.
Paul does this, in fact, constantly. So though he perpetually takes the side of Gentile converts to the faith to defend them from the Reactionaries of his day–namely, pious Jewish Christians who are sure that possession of Jewish blood or practice of Jewish rites makes them superior to their Gentile brethren (much as Extraordinary Form Catholics tend to look down on their second class Ordinary Form brethren today)–Paul’s instinct is always to try to affirm genuine devotion to Jesus even when it takes the form of specifically Jewish forms of piety too. He is not the enemy of Jewish piety that a later and more embittered form of Gentile-dominated Christianity will imagine him to be. Here he is, for instance, urging Gentile and Jewish Christians to see each other with mutual respect as they both worship Jesus according to their own cultural norms:
As for the man who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not for disputes over opinions. One believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats; for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Master is able to make him stand.
One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all days alike. Let every one be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. He also who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; while he who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. one of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall give praise to God.”
So each of us shall give account of himself to God. (Ro 14:1–12).
Precisely what drives Paul is the desire for the Church to be Catholic–universal–and not imprisoned by racial and ethnic categories. The idea of a Christianity that supports some form of ethnic supremacy is anathema to him. What has anybody to be superior about? All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. For Paul, arguments about ethnic supremacy are arguments among cancer patients about who is the least terminal.
So the paradox is that his wrath tends to be spent on those who try to do this, which in his day, meant the Circumcision Party: those who insisted that if you did not observe Jewish rites and customs, you could not be a real disciple of Jesus and therefore could not be saved. His angriest and most exasperated letter–Galatians–is precisely about that:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel—not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. (Ga 1:6–8).
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit† by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so many things in vain?—if it really is in vain. Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? (Ga 3:1–5).
My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you! I could wish to be present with you now and to change my tone, for I am perplexed about you. (Ga 4:19–20).
You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who called you. A little leaven leavens all the dough. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine; and he who is troubling you will bear his judgment, whoever he is. But if I, brethren, still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? In that case the stumbling block of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would mutilate themselves! (Ga 5:7–12).
It’s been a while since I’ve heard a Catholic homily in which the preacher urges his enemies to castrate themselves. But I can’t help loving Paul’s unabashed expression of frustration. It’s one of the reasons I trust him. He doesn’t have a dishonest bone in his body. He tells you exactly what he is thinking and feeling.
And the paradox of what he is thinking and feeling here is that he stands 100% for as inclusive a Church as he can help foster. The reason he is frustrated with the Circumcision party and the suckers who are falling for their schtick is that their schtick, like that of all elitists, is to keep as many people as possible away from the blessing God intends for all.
Humans have a genius for coming up with systems to bar others from grace. We constantly turn windows into locked doors. God hands us something for free and we immediately put a price tag on it before handing on to somebody else. So, for instance, Paul understood that the purpose of the law (including the ceremonial laws) was to alert us to the fact of our need for grace. Having done that, the law has done everything it was designed to do. It is like an x ray machine. It is part of the healing process inasmuch as it tells us what is wrong with us. But, as with the X-ray machine, once it has done that, it has done all it can. More x rays do not heal the broken bone. More condemnation from the law for our sin does not heal or forgive our sin. For that, we need the Divine Physician.
So while Paul is fine with Jewish Christians practicing their ancestral rites and ceremonies (as, indeed, he and the other apostles did) he will not stand for one second for Jewish Christians reading Gentiles out of the Church for not being circumcised, or for eating non-kosher foods, or for failing to observe other cultural shibboleths Jewish Christians of the first century saw as making them part of the elite in the Church.
Which brings us to the Qatholic phenomenon again. Because Qatholic, as distinct from Catholic, faith is all about exclusion and elitism. That’s why it hates this pope. That’s why it wants so desperately to turn the Church from a sacrament of salvation for all into an exclusive club for some.
As I have said repeatedly, Francis is incredibly easy to understand. The Qatholics who denounce him as “confusing” aren’t confused by him. They just don’t want to hear what he says. The entirety of Francis’ mission can be summarized in these words: “He has preached good news to the poor.”
That’s it. That’s all you need to know. He is about evangelism and, in particular, evangelism to the Least of These.
Qatholicism hates evangelism. Because Qatholicism is about guarding a fortress, not going out of the fortress to the highways and byways to serve the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. Evangelism allows riff raff into the Fortress: riff raff with no interest in the aesthetics and antiquarian tastes of the Qatholic. Tacky people who could not tell Marty Haugen from Palestrina if their lives depended on it. People who would just as soon know what the prayer said in English or Spanish or Amazon Basin Portuguese as hear it perfectly enunciated in untelligible Latin. People whose aesthetics and piety create figures like Our Lady of the Amazon, not Michaelangelo’s Pieta, but whose reverence for Mary is no less than, and often greater than, the white supremacists who declared Our Lady of the Amazon an idol and spat in the brown faces of the people Francis welcomed into the Church.
Qatholicism does not like the use of reason for related reasons. The Catholic tradition teaches that reason is universal and that anybody from anywhere can access it. In this, it echoes the Jewish tradition of the Woman Wisdom who invites every Tom, Dick, and Harry:
“To you, O men, I call, and my cry is to the sons of men. O simple ones, learn prudence; O foolish men, pay attention. Hear, for I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right; for my mouth will utter truth; wickedness is an abomination to my lips. All the words of my mouth are righteous; there is nothing twisted or crooked in them. They are all straight to him who understands and right to those who find knowledge. (Pr 8:4–9)
Qatholicism rejects the idea that truth is knowable to all because it exists to exclude. Instead, it believes in gnosis: hidden knowledge that is only revealed to an elite of magically endowed people who hand that on by their special personal charisma to the Chosen in the religion of MAGA. The god of Qatholicism, which is a particular sect of Qhristianity that caters to the special obsessions of MAGA Catholics, is of course Donald Trump. His ipsi dixits determine in large measure what the Truth of the Moment is for Qhristians and Qatholics (though other ipsi dixits from other sources that are perceived as helping him can also be temporary dogmas that shift with the needs of Trump). Anything else is Fake News and those who speak it are not to be trusted because they make Trump look bad when he is the source of all Truth.
Of which more tomorrow.