This is oddly entertaining

Published August 24, 2020

There are lots of debates, particularly in Reformed circles about whether or not Catholics in general, or this Catholic, or that Catholic, are saved.

It’s a beloved pastime for Christians from various sectors of global Christianity, including my own communion. Having a Magisterium is nice here because it provides an actual means to reply to the rabid dogs in my own communion who are more than willing to reply that only Catholics are saved–and they also pretty sure that nearly every Catholic, including the Pope, is damned too.

Me, I stick with the Church and avoid speculating about the eternal destiny of anybody. I think the Orthodox have it right with the proverb “We know where the Church is. We do not know where it is not.” So I take the Church seriously when she commands we pray for and hope for the salvation of all. Given that God does not command us to do the impossible, I take it as possible, not assured, that we may find on That Day that all eventually say “Yes” to grace.

But I also know that this can only be a hope in this life. Both presumption and despair are the great enemies of Hope because they both lie that we can know the end of the story.

That we cannot do, even for ourselves.

On the whole, I take videos like the one above as another sign of Hope. A couple of weeks ago, I remarked in my comboxes about my loathing for Calvinism. But I also noted that as time has gone on I have encountered many Calvinists whose personal goodness seems to me to act as a counterweight to the implications of the theology they profess. This video demonstrates what I mean here. People are complex and the Holy Spirit is at work in every person who lays himself open to Him. It seems to me obvious that this is what I am looking at here.

And that is something I can rejoice in. I wonder if Tolkien or Chesterton will be surprised by the harvest of souls and the beautiful fruits of charity and brotherhood they helped to foster, water and fertilize in people they would likely have seen as very remote from their own ideas about things.

One of the things I look forward to in Heaven (assuming my hope of reaching it fulfilled) will be the surprises everyone of us will have. If the Christian story insists on anything, it is that at the center of reality is the Great Twist Ending and, as Tolkien insisted, eucatastrophe.

The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially ‘escapist’, nor ‘fugitive’. In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.

It is the mark of a good fairy-story, of the higher or more complete kind, that however wild its events, however fantastic or terrible the adventures, it can give to child or man that hears it, when the “turn” comes, a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears, as keen as that given by any form of literary art, and having a peculiar quality.”

As I listen to these good men and good brothers in Christ love the goodness they taste in Tolkien and Chesterton, I cannot but taste in them a little bit of Heaven. The murderous acrimony of the 16th Century and what followed gets worn away by the endless waves of the Spirit’s grace like the beating of the sea again a giant rock at the shore and obstacles to love once immovable somehow go away.

My hope is that the patience of God will someday prevail even on a heart as hard and impatient as mine.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is 
  when brothers dwell in unity! 
It is like the precious oil upon the head, 
  running down upon the beard, 
upon the beard of Aaron, 
  running down on the collar of his robes! 
It is like the dew of Hermon, 
  which falls on the mountains of Zion! 
For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, 
  life for evermore. (Ps 133)

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14 Responses

  1. Yes!
    Before Pope Francis was elected, I used to follow about 50 American Catholic Blogs. I now follow three daily (you, ‘Church Life journal’, and ‘Where Peter Is’), and 6 or 7 others, weekly. The rest seem to have become cringemakingly hysterical and/or make me feel embarrassed to be Catholic. What they seem to have in common is how egotistical they seem to me, as a Brit.

    Like Catholicism, Calvinism seems to have (is in denial of) ‘unacknowledged denominations’. In the run up to 2017, The Gospel Coalition (TGC) did its own ‘ressourcement’ to the ‘fathers of the Reformation’ and realised how far they’d departed from their roots, so they brought out a catechism, and have made enormous strides in changing the culture of many of their congregations. (Not saying it’s all a bed of roses, though!)

    In many ways, despite being Calvinist, they get “The Spirit of Catholicism”. They might not have the same view of the sacraments doctrinally, but their grasp of the reality and importance, is visceral, and their writing on discipleship and formation, so insightful and rich. They understand catechesis as an embodied and integrated set of beliefs and practices as a family, as Church, not learning a set of ideas for an exam – ‘church-as-school’ – and the priest, the headmaster. For them, it’s about well-rounded and healthy formation of the whole person integrated into a community of faith, not just stuffing heads full of the Right Ideas to parrot in arguments (and spending time prowling around for fights to pick to show off one’s supposed intellectual prowess, which, of course, actually shows one’s stupidity). Even the laity see ‘formation’ as like ‘parish seminary’: isolated and completely cerebral.

    Contrariwise, I find nearly everything about Catholicism – as a ‘form of life’ – disheartening and repulsing me, whilst much of what TGC is producing, warming my heart and giving me hope, as above. it’s also interesting that a lot of their thinking about church and culture is based in the thought of two Catholics, Charles Taylor and Alasdair MacIntyre.

    Of course, the Catholic Church is ‘the Church’, so I have no intention to leave, but we really do seem to be disappearing up our own backsides, rather than ‘going out’. The ‘New Evangelisation’ has become the New Inquisition. Evangelisation has been replaced with cerebral apologetics (as with the ‘bad Calvinists’), and Formation is cerebal catechesis. It’s all in the head: like the worst forms of Calvinism.

    But, maybe that’s because most of the ‘leading lights’ and high profile Catholics seem to be ex-Calvinists – or influenced by these ex-Calvinists – of that worst sort? In essence, we seem to be spending all our time attacking ourselves.

  2. I really enjoyed your reflection today, Mark. It brought to my mind the words of Pope St John Paul II about our God given longing for reconciliation. (RECONCILIATION AND PENANCE Apostolic Exhortation 1984)

    “Longing for Reconciliation

    3. Nevertheless, that same inquiring gaze, if it is discerning enough, detects in the very midst of division an unmistakable desire among people of good will and true Christians to mend the divisions, to heal the wounds and to re-establish at all levels an essential unity. This desire arouses in many people a real longing for reconciliation even in cases where there is no actual use of this word.

    Some consider reconciliation as an impossible dream which ideally might become the lever for a true transformation of society. For others it is to be gained by arduous efforts and therefore a goal to be reached through serious reflection and action. Whatever the case, the longing for sincere and consistent reconciliation is without a shadow of doubt a fundamental driving force in our society, reflecting an irrepressible desire for peace. And it is as strongly so as the factors of division, even though this is a paradox.

    But reconciliation cannot be less profound than the division itself. The longing for reconciliation and reconciliation itself will be complete and effective only tot he extent that they reach-in order to heal it-that original wound which is the root of all other wounds: namely sin.”

    1. Very little. Gary North did a fine job of repelling and traumatizing me. Then I ran across Chesterton and he helped me to become a Catholic. Are you going to spend another week obsessing over my disinterest in Calvinism? If so, could you start your own blog to do that?

      1. Gary North is not a theologian.

        Every catholic I know endlessly takes the lords name in vain. If I wanted to comment on the catholic teaching on that subject shouldn’t I read some catholic theology? Would I base my opinion on catholic theology on the Catholics I’ve met?

    1. I’ve known a couple Satanists, and I would absolutely say the same about them, too. Decent people.
      It’s almost like character matters far more than religion.

  3. “Given that God does not command us to do the impossible, I take it as possible, not assured, that we may find on That Day that all eventually say ‘Yes’ to grace.”

    As Jimmy Akin has pointed out, the church rejects universalism (everyone is going to heaven) and von Balthasar’s “optimistic universalism” (it’s possible that everyone is going to heaven). The church teaches as a matter of faith that there are people in hell, although we don’t necessarily who (with perhaps the exception of Judas).

      1. Jimmy Akin is the chief apologist for Catholic Answers, which has the support of the bishops. How many books have you written on the Magesterium?

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