The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Here I Go Again...

Why I Am Not A Roman Catholic.... From the Broken Record Album

I really need to learn to keep my mouth (fingers?) shut. I said in passing that I was an Anglican over at this post at the Cornell Society for a Good Time, and people jumped on me like vultures on carrion. So for those of you just tuning in, here is the reason why a guy with the Mexican name of Arturo Vasquez, once a Roman Catholic and son of a Roman Catholic, is no longer a Roman Catholic. Take notes this time, so we don't have to go through this exercise again:

Truth is manifested and not proven, according to the Russian theologian, St. Pavel Florensky. For me, this summarizes the ancient Christian approach to truth. This is because it has everything to do with life in all of its rawness and splendor. Christianity is about life and death, simply put. Christ means life, beautiful life, everlasting life. And "no Christ" means death. Abstract categories such as "truth", "certainity", "sin", "law", "grace", etc. must be read against this definition, and not vice versa.

Now, the immediate experience of Christ is in the Church, which is His body in pilgrimage here on earth. Through the Church, particularily in the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist, we receive the life of Christ. These two sacraments constitute the Church, for they came from the side of the Lord on Calvary in the form of blood and water flowing from His side. Therefore, the Church is primarily the synaxis of God's people around the table of the Lord to receive this life. Without this, there is no Church, no matter how much organzation and letter-head is created.

Now, for me at least, this icon of the Church necessitates laity, deacons, priests, and bishops transmitting the "mysteria" of Christ in an apostolic manner. While this can have a number of forms and God is not strictly bound to work in this manner, the people must constitute the Church by right belief and right worship. The guarentee of the indefectibility of the Church is the people and their sensus catholicus, not an abstract office or legalistic checks and balances.

Many agree that most Christian denominations in this country are suffering from a huge crisis in many respects. This is especially sad in the Roman Catholic Church, since it used to be so traditional. Many conservatives and traditionalists of this church, however, tend to say that while they might despise their bishops and priests, they are still "with the Pope, since the Pope is infallible". This is neither a traditional nor a very sound view of the Church. For even in contemporary Catholic theology, the parish priest is the immediate representative of Christ over his flock, and the bishop is even moreso. You cannot love one part of the Body of Christ and hate another. You cannot say that one part of the body will always be healthy, and the rest of the body will rot from gangrene. The Church is not a set of legal relations that binds people to the one infallible source of truth. If the Church is not the true Church on the ground level of the immediate liturgical assembly, it is not the true Church. Here, one's own criterion is involved in this very confusing time. And thus, we cannot a priori say that this is or is not the true Church just because of such-and-such a reason. There is uncertainty involved, and one must pray for discernment. But like Newman, we must toast to conscience first and then to the Pope (if there is anything left in your glass after the first toast). This is not the easy way out, but it is certainly the most honest.

My Anglicanism is a very loose thing still very much in formation and who knows if it will ever really be truly formed. The bottom line is: if it looks Christian, one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, trust your gut instinct and stay there. If it doesn't, try to leave on the very best of terms and don't burn your bridges. THE CHURCH is what you see and experience every Sunday. If you are in full communion with those people, then you are home. I am home every Sunday, but that is just the very beginning of the fight to save my soul. And that is what is most important.


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At 12:54 AM, Blogger Clara said...

Though I hate to chase you into your own territory, I feel like something needs to be said here. I’m terribly sorry that we made you feel so persecuted, but I think you should consider whether it isn’t a bit disingenuous to describe yourself as having mentioned “in passing” that you were an Anglican. In fact, you explained this by way of implicitly criticizing the movement to restore the old Mass, and publicly justifying your own decision to leave the Church. What you said amounted to a serious challenge, and a firm response should have been expected. I would have considered it remiss to allow such a comment to go unremarked on our own blog.

Consider the portrait of yourself that you have sketched (both on our blog and here): as one reflective and broad-minded, who has been able through much doubt and some pain, to work your way to a high place in which you can see many things spread out below. You like to think of yourself as continuing to view that hamlet in which you were raised as part of the landscape; you understand its limitations now, but your affection for it remains, and in a spirit of general benevolence, you don’t wish to trouble its peaceful, contented inhabitants (like the members of the Cornell Society for a Good Time) with the burden of those wise but unsettling insights which you have attained in your spiritual journey. Let each, you suggest, be content with the community that he has chosen.

Of course you realize that we could never agree to such a truce. The very suggestion strikes at our deepest loyalties, as surely as if you had suggested that we cease to honor Our Lady. You say that you wish to remain on good terms with the community you have left. Of course you do; everybody always does. It’s nice to get along with people, and if you can, through leaving your native faith, acquire an image of wisdom, integrity or particular spiritual depth, that’s even nicer. There’s a romantic side to the role of the spiritual sojourner too: enduring some loneliness on the high road to truth, refusing to settle for anything too obvious or un-nuanced. Don’t think that I’m being contemptuous here – as you know, I myself apostized from the faith in which I was raised, and I know all these temptations intimately. It’s so comforting to cast yourself in that heroic and mildly tragic role! And perhaps it isn’t entirely wrong to do so. But like all affectations, these comforts can deceive. Apostasy must be acknowledged for what it really is.

Throughout history, scores of people have tried to patronize the Church of Rome. I did it myself for a number of years. In the end, it won’t do; you are not entitled to choose the terms on which you relate to her. She has made a very significant claim about what she is and about the authority that she holds, and it is abundantly clear from this post that you reject her claim. It is natural to try to preserve your personal relationships as much as possible after the break, but you must not let an affectionate farewell from your old parish priest obscure the nature of the choice. In apostizing, you have denied the Catholic Church your loyalty, and declined the graces and protections that she offers. A peaceful and amiable parting of ways was never on the table, except in your own mind. You may comfort yourself by equating “life, beautiful life,” as determined by your own gut, with Christ, but do you think that that interpretation would have satisfied St. Augustine? St. Edmund Campion? St. John of Damascus? St. Francis de Sales? Any of the saints? Life on earth was more painful than delightful for many of them, but they shouldered ahead in the conviction that it was a blessing to be persecuted for fidelity to their Lord, and that the teaching that the Church is “one” referred to more than a general feeling of community togetherness. I wonder, do you really understand what Newman meant when he toasted to “conscience?” If you think he meant feeling at home in the community of one’s choice, you need to read his Apologia again.

Traditional Catholics certainly have their faults, and no doubt I embody many of them. We are inclined to be scornful of many of our local religious authorities, and insofar as that is an expression of personal contempt or hatred, it is wrong of us. However, a deficiency in charity is not the same as schism. We of the Cornell Society for a Good Time acknowledge that new rite Catholics are indeed Catholics, and members of the same body, and we wish for them to remain so. Your suggestion about the authority of priests and bishops taking precedence over that of the Pontiff is merely your own invention. Yes, the parish priest is supposed to be the Vatican’s representative on a local level… but a Catholic is not required to believe that the priest is doing a good job of representing. The parish priest is in no way infallible; the Pontiff is. All should be treated with love and respect, but we are right to offer greater loyalty to the Pontiff – that is, if you believe what the Church herself says on the matter instead of making your own pronouncement. A convert to Catholicism from heresy is required to take an oath of loyalty to the Supreme Pontiff, but not to the parish priest, nor to the bishop.

I have granted that some of your criticisms are justified, but I wonder, do you really understand us so well as you think you do? You declare grandly that the Church is “not a set of legal relations” and your references throughout to offices and letterhead imply that this is what you take traditional Catholics to worship. I think it is better expressed like this: there is a body, pale and still with an ugly expression, lying on the ground, and both you and we are looking at it and noting its unattractiveness. You conclude that the life really has gone from it, and that it must be a corpse, so you turn away, and pity us for worshipping a mere shell. But that is not really what we are doing. We believe that, within the unmoving breast, a heart still beats. Health will be restored to those limbs in God’s good time, and someday the unattractive body will turn out most gloriously to be the spotless Bride of Christ. It is to this dear hope, and not to “a set of legal relations” that we cling so tenaciously.

God bless you.


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