One of the less well-known facts about Martin Luther is that, by then a generation into his revolt, he supported Catherine of Aragon against Henry VIII. As did William Tyndale, who effectively went to the stake at Vilvoorde rather than return to an England that he did not regard as having really become Protestant at all. Like Luther, Tyndale held that some king who wanted to get divorced because he had got his bit on the side pregnant was not quite what the movement was about. People who took Protestantism seriously, including as an international movement, ended up losing a Civil War in England, although they have accounted for at least half of England’s non-Catholic churchgoers ever since.
Nor did the Tudors become tyrants and torturers when they became, after their own fashion, Protestants. They had always been like that, especially after the death of Elizabeth of York, when numerous of her relatives remained alive, all with far better claims to the Throne than her widower had ever possessed. Still, they were tyrants and torturers, every one of them. It is quite hilarious that there are people who think that the issuing of Regnans in Excelsis was one of the most important things that Pope Saint Pius V ever did, or even in his Top 20 Greatest Hits. They are like the people who think that Apostolicae Curae ranks anywhere close to the writings of Pope Leo XIII on supernatural evil, on Catholic Social Teaching, and on Thomism.
By the way, the present title of Fidei Defensor derives, not from its conferral on Henry VIII by the Pope, but from its conferral by Parliament on Henry’s son, Edward VI. It tellingly remained part of the Royal Title of the Irish Free State throughout that State’s existence. Not that it has ever been peculiarly British or English; various monarchs have used it in various times and places, and Popes have conferred it on a number of people, so that, for example, Catherine of Aragon was a Defender of the Faith in her own right.
Now, to more serious concerns.
In Catholicism, the classical Evangelical finds a Church that in fact has always held Scripture to be normative among the loci of authority within Her life, and has never formally excluded the possibility that, should such a circumstance arise, Scripture’s teaching might suffice for salvation. But She believes in the Bible as it actually exists objectively, thereby compelling Her to explore joyfully the full richness both of the Biblical literature itself and of its context in the whole Church’s communal experience and proclamation of Christ.
Furthermore, Catholic theology as such, as opposed to a Late Medieval Western popular piety very much akin to contemporary popular faux Evangelicalism, has never been under the slightest misapprehension about where the initiative lies regarding salvation: God freely saves us by His grace, undeserving sinners though we are, and He does so only because of the saving acts of Jesus Christ, and above all because of Christ’s at once substitutionary, exemplary and victorious Atonement. However, God does not merely declare the sinner righteous forensically, as if as a sort of legal fiction, but actually initiates and effects a process whereby righteousness is genuinely brought about through willing co-operation with His grace.
For some people, this involves conversion and assurance as classically understood by Evangelical Protestants; for others, the experience of conversion and assurance is different. Both happen, so Rome has never rejected either, but has anathematised merely the narrow insistence on the former. There is certainly no doubt at all that God, being God, foreknows and in some sense predestines who is to be saved, but the workings of the mystery of election are not given to us to understand, and it is not our place to speculate upon them.
Evangelistic zeal was for centuries a Catholic rather than a Protestant phenomenon, with John Calvin simply ruling out the re-establishment of the office of evangelist on the grounds that, like, as he held, the office of apostle, its function belonged to days long past, when, in his view, churches were being founded. By contrast, such Catholics as Saint Francis Xavier were hugely effective in this field, and movements in the same direction among Protestants were overwhelmingly either themselves High Church, such as the SPCK or the SPG and later USPG in the Church of England, or else, like early Methodism, deeply rooted in High Churchmanship.
Of course, Catholic evangelisation is as concerned as that of any later Evangelical to foster a personal relationship between the individual and Jesus Christ. But it strongly emphasises that there is no Christ without His Body, and thus no true relationship with Him except in the context of Her communal participation in the life of the Triune God.
Catholic history abounds with movements for the reform, revival and renewal of the Church at times of crisis or corruption, through the Holy Spirit’s raising up and subsequent use of minorities at the cutting edge. The Franciscans and the Dominicans are the most obvious examples, and very important God has proved them, too. But there are also many, many more. Being ecclesia semper reformanda has always been an integral part of being ecclesia semper eadem. Central to many such reforming, reviving and renewing movements has been and is the truth that every Christian has a vocation, to be lived out in whatever course of life he or she pursues.
Bizarrely, this thoroughly Biblical, Patristic (up to and including High Medieval) and Tridentine idea is frequently alleged to have begun with the Reformers. One is at a loss as to how or why such a misconception arose, especially when so much of the Reformation, not least in England, involved replacing a lay-led and highly participatory church with a sort of clerical caste, as well as largely abandoning any claim by the Church to exercise Her Prophetic Office in the economic and political spheres.
Once laypeople started going to church only to hear sermons, and not also to meditate before the Blessed Sacrament or to pray in union with a Saint who was depicted there, then they ceased to have any cause to enter a church unless they knew for certain that a clergyman would be present. The abomination that is locked churches duly followed, long before even Catholics became forced to adopt that practice by the fear of crime.
Where many Catholics really do need to return to Scripture and to the Fathers in a way that the best Protestants have never departed from them is in recognising the equality and complementarity of the respective ministries of men and women, of clergy and laypeople, of priests and deacons, of seculars and professed Religious, of those called to marriage and those called to celibacy, and so on. But such recognition, pace much of contemporary Evangelical and Liberal Protestantism, depends precisely on a profoundly grateful appreciation of the distinctiveness of each of these ministries, and it is therefore inimical to any attempt to homogenise them.
Pace, in particular, the wishful wittering of Anglican liberals who never read anyone’s work but each other’s, the Catholic argument against the ordination of women by reference to iconic representation is not only compatible with, but inseparable from, the Evangelical, and in fact utterly Catholic, argument in terms of the Biblical pattern of male headship in the Church. Such headship is obviously iconic, both of the Fatherhood of God, and of Jesus Christ as the New Adam.
On both grounds, that iconic headship obviously enjoys a unique appropriateness to the role of visible Eucharistic celebrant, as was immediately understood and vigorously contended by the formative authors both of Anglican and other Calvinist Protestantism, and of Lutheran Protestantism, just as none of them had any truck with the “open table” policy, any more than did the pioneers of the Methodist and Baptist movements. There is no Scriptural case whatever for the view that ordained ministry is representative of the Church rather than of Her Lord; if Scripture taught that, then it would require that all ordained ministers be female.
Within what is now called “every-member ministry”, which Catholics invented and Protestants tried to dismantle, the Catholic Church certainly maintains the threefold pattern of Holy Orders – Bishop, Priest and Deacon – in the tangible Apostolic Succession through the imposition of hands with prayer. That succession by that profoundly Biblical means is a matter of historical fact, which no one thought to dispute until it suited certain people’s purposes to do so after sixteen centuries.
However, it must be distinguished from the seriously deficient Anglo-Catholic and other theories of Apostolic Succession purely in terms of hands on heads; the hands of a community are laid on the heads of a community, and episcopi vagantes do not get a look in. Valid (i.e., absolutely certain) orders are a matter, not of historical descent alone, but of present belonging to a body, including to its – to Her – history. The marks of that Body, the Church, include sanctity and apostolicity, which themselves include moral and doctrinal orthodoxy, so that the tangible Apostolic Succession always associated with Catholicism is inseparable from the Evangelical Succession of the best Protestants.
Furthermore, those most faithful to the heritage of the Magisterial Reformation have always maintained the episcopal, presbyteral and diaconal functions, even if they have often abandoned the corresponding forms. This strange abandonment is made even stranger by their very frequent insistence that those to be admitted to such functions must receive the imposition of hands with prayer from those who are already so commissioned.
Also within the collaborative and participatory ministry of the Catholic Church as a whole, one encounters the myriad of what are regarded in Protestant circles as parachurch bodies. These organisations and institutions are seen by Evangelical Protestants as comprising members of the Church who come together to do such things as the Church is called to do, such as providing educational resources, but not those things which only the Church can ever do, preaching the Word and administering the Sacraments. No split between these bodies and the One Body afflicts the Catholic Church, and Catholic voluntary agencies, apostolic Religious Orders and Secular Institutes are fully integrated into the Church’s overseeing (that is, episcopal) structures.
The Preaching of the Word has always been held by Rome, at least in principle, to be the priest’s primary duty. If this calls for a renewal in the art of Sacred Oratory, not least in the seminaries, then such a renewal can only be effected from the inside. Without in any way wishing to endorse the (especially Anglican) academic and class snobbery in Anglophone countries about the highly questionable alleged superiority of Protestant preaching, it has to be said that improvement can only ever be both necessary and desirable, not always so much in terms of style as in terms of the degree of importance attached, in practice, to this chief among apostolic ministries.
In order to be more fully Herself, the Catholic Church needs to encourage large numbers of Her members to learn the culture of the Word from that Evangelical tradition which is historically, if even in its own terms no longer necessarily, separated from Her full communion. Such a culture is one in which the defining narratives are those of the Old and New Testaments, and examples of it range from Handel to Holman Hunt.
All cultures define and perpetuate themselves by telling stories, and the Bible culture initially arose in order to fill the gaps left after the Reformation where the Lives of the Saints had previously been. Catholicity, however, requires both, not least in order to express the indivisible continuity between the Bible and the Church. Catholics are not being asked to take on anything remotely Protestant as such here: look at the Liturgy, look at the Fathers (up to and including the Medieval Doctors), look at the Medieval and post-Medieval mystics, and look at the iconography and other spirituality of the Christian East, whether Catholic or separated.
Taking on is a defining mark of Catholicism, which radically and fundamentally distinguishes the Catholic Church from the giving up that characterises Protestantism.
The Bible culture needs to be like every other aspect of the living out of the Catholic Faith in being transmitted from generation to generation through the united efforts of the Catholic parish, the Catholic school and the Catholic home, “the Church in miniature”.
Catholics are the most fervent Evangelicals in our belief in the family, founded on the God-given, and not man-made, institution of Holy Matrimony. At the same time, Catholics attach no less importance to the complementary bonds of friendship in building up a society of mutual obligation and enjoyment, reflecting both the Trinitarian God and the earthly life of Jesus Christ.
To the Catholic, the whole Church was baptised with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, and She manifests that baptism through a rich plurality of gifts, the charisms. The whole Church, and thus every member, is therefore both Pentecostal and Charismatic.
Every gift is a charism, and each is always given for the good of the whole body, in response to Her evangelistic activity, in the context of Her sacramental life, and subject to Her gift of discernment. She exercises that gift within Her institutional life, because the institutional Church and the charismatic Church are inseparable; they are two aspects of a single reality.
It is wholly unscriptural to impose any requirement that anyone exercise any particular charism in order to be considered a full, believing member of the Church. There has never been the slightest doubt that the charisms include healing, exorcism, prophecy and words of knowledge, nor really even that they include speaking in tongues.
Furthermore, healing is here understood as even those of us not raised in the Charismatic Movement understand it: it is the restoration of the human person to wholeness, which may or may not take the form of healing as understood by medical science, depending on what is known best to the Holy Spirit, Who is the Wisdom of God. Similarly, the performance of exorcism is restricted to suitably qualified persons, and it is only ever used against the power of that objective evil which we can but thank God that we do not fully understand.
Prophecy is recognised as the gift of being able to read the signs of the times and to communicate effectively what is thus read, so that it does always include the prediction of the future: foretelling is always integral to forth-telling. Words of knowledge are always relevant, always wise counsel, and always independently verifiable. Speaking in tongues is never without the interpretation of tongues, and together they make it possible to understand where this would not otherwise be the case.
For example, as well as having been miraculously healed, the great Dominican Saint Vincent Ferrer was also blessed with the gift of tongues. Other than Ecclesiastical Latin and despite his English father, he had no language but Limousin, which was what they spoke in his native Valencia in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Yet he was a tireless itinerant missionary, preaching to tremendous effect in Aragon, Castile, Switzerland, France, Italy, England, Ireland and Scotland.
Whereas glossolalia is a twentieth-century running together of two Biblical Greek words in order to describe a twentieth-century phenomenon which does not occur in the Bible. Is it Saint Paul’s “tongues of angels”? There is nothing in Scripture to support that view. The true gift of tongues is as manifested by Saint Vincent Ferrer OP, Biblical scholar, philosopher, thus doubly informed and doubly informing theologian, and thanks to that ongoing formation a gloriously successful preacher of the Gospel, not least to the Jews, precisely as an ordained priest and a solemnly professed Religious in perfect unity with the See of Peter.
Healing, exorcism, prophecy, words of knowledge, speaking in tongues, and the other charisms serve to re-root theology in experience and to call the whole Church to watch at all times for the Second Coming. They restore the integrity of the Liturgy by freeing it from over-formality and over-conventionality. And they release the ministries of women, young people, the poor, and others who experience marginalisation and oppression.
Yet there is never any question of any one gift’s being used to decide whether or not someone had been “baptised with the Holy Spirit”, because it is the whole Church that has been so baptised. Nor need there be any degeneration into banal and incoherent services. And nor is there any transfer of ecclesial authority to parachurch leaders, because there is no parachurch.
The classical liberal is, of course, entirely correct to assert that belief in the objective existence of God is fully compatible with philosophical and scientific analysis, and that God operates in and through any scientifically investigable process. But such belief can never be restricted to such analysis, nor can that operation be limited to any one or more such processes. Scientific facts cannot be the objects of faith; one is simply obliged to accept them.
Likewise, it is thoroughly orthodox to assert that some sort of experience of God underlies each of the great, or indeed small, theistic religious traditions in so far as any such tradition approximates to Christianity, as well as to recognise that His Natural Law is the root cause of similarities to Christian morality in other ethical systems.
It is also the case that the full humanity of Jesus Christ must be emphasised most strongly while at the same time asserting that He was the man fully conscious of God in the way that we are all partially capable of being. However, the humanity of Christ must never be allowed to detract from His divinity, any more than vice versa, and a mere ‘degree Christology’ fails to satisfy humanity’s need for a Saviour who is at once God and Man.
As with science, so with historicity, and especially with the Historical Jesus. While the heart of the Catholic Faith is indeed God’s incarnational redemption of human life and history from within, the various Quests for the Historical Jesus have floundered due to the lack of agreement as to the objective criteria for determining which parts of the Gospels are, and which are not, historical in the post-Enlightenment sense.
It is absurd to assume, apparently a priori, that Saint John’s Gospel, the Infancy Narratives and anything involving miracles are by definition unhistorical. An absolute insistence that miracles do not ever happen is not even compatible with agnosticism, much less with Christianity.
On the matter of John, it is very much worthy of note that even Professor Dennis Nineham, in his epilogue to The Myth of God Incarnate, cites B H Streeter’s calculation that, except for the 40 days and nights in the wilderness, everything attributed to Jesus in all four Gospels could have happened in a mere three weeks. (This argument is also very useful against those who would deny the authority of the Apostolic Traditions.)
In any case, historical criticism cannot be treated as if it existed apart from the several other means of engagement with the Biblical text; they need all to be applied within the context of each other, even if sometimes to demonstrate why some of them are potentially useless, and even dangerous. And after all, both the Historical Jesus and the Historic Christ are here and now in the form of the Church, which is the Body of Christ and “Christ in action”.
The liberal conceives of life after death in terms of the immortality of the soul, and draws an absolute distinction between the risen “bodies” that will be the vehicles for our personalities in the hereafter and the mortal bodies that fulfil such a function for the time being. If it is consistent, which it usually is, then liberalism thinks of Our Lord’s Resurrection in the same way.
But it is very wrong indeed to suggest that He rose with a merely spiritual “body”. No reading of the Biblical text allows either for such a belief or for its co-requisite: that the progression of the disembodied soul in Christ is the final human state in Him, rather than an intermediate state while we await the General Resurrection at the point when the existing physical world will be recreated, and restored to perfection, but certainly not destroyed.
Conservative Protestant (and some Catholic) responses to Liberalism have centred on Karl Barth’s insistence that there can be no human knowledge of God except in so far as He reveal Himself in Jesus Christ. This meeting between divine revelation and human response is regarded as dialectical: it is an encounter of opposites. In that dialectical encounter, Christ becomes the key to the believer’s otherwise impossible understanding of the Bible, which is seen very strongly as a unitary and coherent whole. All of this is utterly Catholic.
Where Catholics differ from Protestants in the interrelated neo-orthodox, dialectical theology and Biblical Theology movements is in objecting to the typically Protestant truncatedness with which each of those movements expresses itself in relation to its subject. Reason, religious experience, and sensory or emotional perceptions are self-evidently means whereby God can be known by men and women.
This does not in any way detract from the revelation of God in Christ, in that the illuminating grace which makes possible such knowledge is always and everywhere operative only because of the historically and geographically located saving acts of Jesus Christ.
Indeed, the supposed duality between “Reason” and “Revelation” is contrary to Catholicism’s inherent and constant realisation that all human knowledge is the finite apprehension of the Infinite, Who is known personally by faith as God.
On that realisation is built what Protestants are wont to call “the pre-Reformation synthesis” (just as they also talk, with equal arrogance and inaccuracy, about “the Counter-Reformation”), but which is in fact the continuous and continuing Catholic synthesis of all human knowledge in terms of theology.
In the dialectical encounter between God and humanity, the former calls the latter to active co-operation with Him; that is why He causes the meeting to take place at all. Such an encounter with Jesus Christ can only happen specifically and consciously within the context of the mission and ministry of His Body, the Church. That Body is thus the living and ongoing dimension of that revelation in history to which Scripture as a whole bears witness. It is not the Bible, but Christ (and thus, inseparably, the Church), Who is that revelation.
Being Protestant, the Biblical Theology movement has suffered from its reception of only the Hebrew Canon of the Old Testament and from the tendency to create a “Canon within the Canon”. Against the consequences of these deficiencies, its needs to be affirmed that the Biblical literature is indeed a product of its culture, that it resembles contemporaneous works very strongly at many points, and that it sets the tone for the later Church in its successful synthesis of Hebrew and Hellenistic thought.
And the works of Barth and his school must be referred, including for correction, to the ressourcement theologians and to Hans Urs von Balthasar, themselves always read under Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition in obedience to the Magisterium.