Thursday, August 30, 2007

John L. Allen Jnr. on Evangelical Catholicism: A "one-two punch of grass-roots ferment and official support"

Two articles have appeared on the National Catholic Reporter's web site both by my favourite ecclesiastical journalist John L. Allen Jnr:

The Triumph of Evangelical Catholicism

Liberal Catholicism endures in pastoral church

Take my advice and read both of them -- back-to-back. This is Allen at his (literally) balanced best. You could see it as a bet both ways, but you need to remember who his audience is -- writing for a more conservative audience might have produced a different approach. Nevertheless, as he himself would say, the role of the journalist isn't to make the news but to report it as it is. And he does a fairly good job of that.

Assuming you have now taken the time to read these articles, there are a few comments I would like to make. (And for those of you who don't know me, it should be fairly obvious that I self identify as an "Evangelical Catholic").

My first comment is by way of the quibble.
The second, a brief declaration from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, addresses a phrase from the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) that the church of Christ “subsists in” Catholicism. Many people thought it meant the true church cannot be identified with institutional Catholicism, and it was understood as a gesture of ecumenical openness. Now, however, the Vatican has ruled that “subsists in” means the true church “endures” in Catholicism alone, without denying that “elements” of the church can be found in other Christian bodies.
The "quibble" is that Allen consistently uses the word "Catholicism" as a synonym for the communion of Churches which is the "one holy Catholic Church" (ie. the Una Catholica). That will be a cause for misunderstanding if it is allowed to continue. "Catholicism" is usually used to describe that way of being Christian which is Western, Latin, and papal. In truth, the Una Catholica is the Church "governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him". That is manifestly not quite the same thing as "Catholicism". To put it bluntly, to say that "Catholicism" is "the Church" is not to use the word "Church" in the proper sense.
David Bebbington...defines [Evangelicalism] in terms of four commitments: the Bible alone as the touchstone of faith, Christ’s death on the cross as atonement for sin, personal acceptance of Jesus as opposed to salvation through externals such as sacraments, and strong missionary energies premised on the idea that salvation comes only from Christ. Clearly, some of these commitments mark areas of disagreement with Catholics rather than convergence.

Yet if these points are restated in terms of their broad underlying concerns, the evangelical agenda Bebbington describes pivots on three major issues: authority, the centrality of key doctrines, and Christian exclusivity. If so, there’s little doubt that Catholicism under John Paul II and Benedict XVI has become ever more boldly evangelical.
I wonder if we can't analyse this even perhaps a little further. For instance, evangelical Catholics share a high regard for the Bible as Word of God with evangelical Protestants more than they do with liberal Catholics. Evangelical Catholics emphasise the atoning work of Christ present in the sacrifice of the mass. Evangelical Catholics emphasise the personal encounter with Christ in the sacraments. And, as the name would suggest, evangelical Catholics are strongly in favour of the call to the "New Evangelisation". In other words, there are direct correspondents to each of the classic marks of evangelicalism.
To be clear, evangelical Catholicism isn’t fundamentalism... While evangelical Catholics believe in dialogue, they insist it can’t come at the expense of strong Catholic identity. The bottom line is unambiguous assertion that the visible, institutional Catholic church alone possesses the fullness of the church willed by Christ... None of this means the Vatican is claiming that only Catholics can be saved. The congregation stated that other Christian bodies can be “instruments of salvation,” and there’s nothing in the document to roll back Vatican II’s teaching that non-Christians can also be saved “in ways known only to God.” Yet evangelical Catholics reject suggestions that all religions are equally valid; ultimately, they insist, salvation comes from Christ, and the church is the primary mediator of this salvation. This belief remains the basic motivation for missionary work.
In all these statements, Allen hits the nail on the head.

In his second article, Allen asserts that
most sociologists say that complex religious institutions are likely to contain both and many others -- only sects, they argue, have the luxury of rigid consistency.
again he is quite right. This is a sociological reason-- rather than a theological reason--why it is hopeless, and in fact undesirable, to search for a "pure" church.

But the second article was a little too accepting of the claims of the liberal Catholics. He quotes Richard Gaillardetz as saying that
liberal Catholicism is less an ideology than a “pastoral phenomenon … alive in parishes that have a flourishing catechumenate, vibrant liturgies, thoughtful and relevant preaching, and multiple lay ministerial opportunities.”
I beg to point out, that these virtuous attributes are by no means lacking among evangelical Catholics. Evangelical Catholicism proposes and offers catechisation intentionally founded on the church's teaching authority, liturgies vibrant with beauty and sacredness, and a strong emphasis on spiritual gifts, the lay apostolate and personal vocation.

The results of Dean Hoge's research, cited by Allen, is questionable in value with regard to the attitudes of active, faithful lay Catholics, precisely because the "Catholics" he surveyed include (on his own evidence) 76% who believe that "one could be a good Catholic without going to mass on Sunday". One assumes therefore that 76% of his survey total are not in mass every Sunday.

Allen cites "engaging social and political questions outside the church" as a "progressive cause". We will have to wait and see if Pope Benedict is able to reclaim it as an "evangelical cause" in his upcoming encyclical.

The lecture Allen cites by Jesuit Father Thomas Reese is alarming if only for the reason that it considers schism as a possible "survival strategy for reform, minded Catholics". And if "laying the intellectual foundations for change" is cited in support of the liberal cause, evangelicals too (with the help of the Pope) are hard at work on this.

Finally there is far more comfort for evangelicals than for liberals in Allen's constant reminder that the future of the church quite likely belongs with charismatic Catholicism. Evangelical Catholics and charismatic Catholics have, as Allen notes, basic theological ground work in common. Liberal Catholics can take no solace at all in the rise of charismatic Catholicism.


At Friday, August 31, 2007 3:48:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

Very interesting, but I too agree that one has to keep Allen's audience in mind.

liberal Catholicism is less an ideology than a “pastoral phenomenon … alive in parishes that have a flourishing catechumenate, vibrant liturgies, thoughtful and relevant preaching, and multiple lay ministerial pportunities.”

Well I have a real problem with the *thoughtful and relevant preaching* in many of these parishes, which is all too often focused strictly on peace and justice issues. There is often very little preaching in *liberal* parishes that reminds Catholics that our life in this world is a "training ground", more or less, for our life in the next in forming a relationship with Christ in this world which will carry into eternity.

I certainly agree that preconciliar Catholicism was sometimes too *otherwordly* but now in some parishes it seems to sometimes swing in the opposite direction in that our earthly lives are the sole focus of *God who loves us* but neglects the Gospel warnings of Christ to His people to keep their lamps lit, to be prepared for His return because we are but pilgrims and strangers in this world, that being *in Christ* does make a difference.

I beg to point out, that these virtuous attributes are by no means lacking among evangelical Catholics. Evangelical Catholicism proposes and offers catechisation intentionally founded on the church's teaching authority, liturgies vibrant with beauty and sacredness, and a strong emphasis on spiritual gifts, the lay apostolate and personal vocation.

And I would therefore also define myself as an Evangelical Catholic, which I felt I was even before conversion.

At Saturday, September 01, 2007 3:40:00 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess it was just me, but I thought Allen's article was a mess. I took "evangelical Catholicism" to be only a literary conceit, which Allen employed merely to get his digs in at the conservative Catholic Church, not as a serious statement. In addition, "evangelical" is hardly an appropriate way to describe Catholicism. The very word gives me shudders. Catholic proclamation and missionary work is contained in the word "Catholic" itself. Why would we possibly need to add "evangelical"?


At Saturday, September 01, 2007 5:38:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

Janice, are you possibly taking "evangelical" to mean Evangelical/Pentecostal Protestantism? That's not at all what is meant by evangelical catholicism, which can be found in many liturgical denominations.

We are very much steeped in the Word of God in Sacred Scripture but never apart from the teaching office of the magisterium and never in conflict with the sacramental life of the Church, especially in the centrality of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Many of us eventually came to the realization that the only way we could live out the fullness of Christianity that was both Biblically evangelical (from the Greek euvangelion, gospel, good news) and catholic, in sum, being fully and authentically Catholic, was to enter into full communion with the See of Peter.

Allen is quite right in his observation that Evangelical Catholics are faithful to the magisterium, pro-life, devoted to Mary and desire to live authentically sacramental lives as Catholics.

At Saturday, September 01, 2007 6:12:00 am , Blogger eulogos said...

Evangelical means preaching the gospel, or based on the gospels. The word has a history of Catholic use, long before its current use by a certain segment of Protestantism. For instance, the "evangelical counsels" were "If thou wouldst be perfect sell all thou hast and give to the poor and come and follow me." and "Be thou perfect as thy heavenly Father is perfect." As you point out, it quite properly belongs to the Catholic Church to be evangelical in the sense of proclaiming the gospel. It is not a word to which we ought to give up the title.

Those who have here claimed it for Catholicism are making the point that we ought to be preaching the true gospel faith-Catholicism. We ought to be evangelical about Catholicism rather than saying mealy mouthed things like, "All Christian Churches are good." [direct quote from someone I go to daily mass with. And she gets there more than I do. }

You know, there are aspects of every group which can be caricatured. Some Protestants have a stereotype of Catholics as people who only say prayers, not pray them, who believe more in Mary than in Christ, etc. I think you might have analogous stereotypes about "Evangelical" Christians. They are generally Christians who put a very high value on personal committment to Jesus Christ, personal acceptance of Him as Saviour, and a personal relationship with him. They value the Scriptures highly, as God's revelation to us, as telling us what He wants of us. None of this is wrong. Catholics can affirm all of it. But we read the Scripture in and with the Church and we are nourished in our relationship with Christ by the Sacraments. We ought to have everything the Evangelical Protestants have, and so much more. Sometimes, with the riches we have in the Sacraments we-some individual Catholics, never the Church as a whole or in doctrine, of course- forget that there is also great nourishment in the Scriptures, enough to keep those poor Protestants alive in Christ even without all the sacraments. One finds lives of great devotion to Christ and great moral courage among serious Protestants of the sort generally called "Evangelical." As the Decree on Ecumenism says, applying it to holiness outside the visible Church "God is wonderful in all His Works and greatly to be praised!"

So, please, don't shudder at the word Evangelical.
Susan F. Peterson


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