My Protestantism

I’m Catholic and off the market, but in researching the history of theology programs I became more and more convinced that my Catholicism would have counted as Protestantism for most of the history of the Church.

I’m a layman teaching theology to non-seminarians at a school that (though orthodox) is not approved by the bishop nor adjoined to a parish. We both teach and read all sorts of books that were on the Index. We even (gasp) let lay women learn and teach theology. In the twelfth century, this was Waldensianism. One could be burnt at the stake for less.

This all changed after Vatican II since one can’t throw the doors of the Church open in dialogue with atheists and the world without, a fortiori, opening them to laymen and non-seminarians. Still, there was nothing in the documents of Vatican II that would lead one to think that the Church now approved lay theologians (male and female) or was ready for lay movements to start calling themselves “Catholic” without episcopal approval.* Much of my life as a Catholic is not celebrated or even approved, but tolerated by a Church hierarchy in a relatively weak position. At any other time in the Church, the movement I’m a part of would have either been condemned (like the Waldensians or Protestant movements) or clericalized (like the Franciscans). Either way, I’m out.

While the Church in America has gotten its biggest shot of life from the Evangelicals that started converting in the early 90’s, the irony is that they could have only given this life to a Church reformed (pun intentional) into Protestantism. No bishop is going to let Scott Hahn preach in 1958 or even 1968. This reform was not called for in the documents but (if we take the most parsimonious account) was effected largely through a liturgy which was deliberately re-written to be more Protestant. And I cry Hallelujah.

The fact is that much of my Catholic life is as much the “Spirit of Vatican II” as any tambourine at the front of a Church-in-the-round. For all the mockery of that phrase, I doubt most of us could tolerate a Church devoid of that spirit. If anything, the phrase sugarcoats what actually happened: The Church was made more Protestant. 

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*While my school isn’t recognized as Catholic, this stops no one from coming. If people think anything about it, they tend to take it as a plus. We love our popes, but in the same way that we have romantic feelings for any foreign potentate or celebrity. The feelings do not scale down to the local bishop.

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4 Comments

  1. dpmonahan said,

    November 9, 2015 at 3:30 pm

    The doctrine of Vat 2 is generally sound, though sometimes vague. Much of it was an attempt to give life to movements that have their roots in the early 20th century: Catholic Action, the return to Thomism, and the tremendous interest in patristics.
    Vat 1 put a heavy emphasis on the papacy. Vat 2 tried to complete that with an emphasis on the episcopate. The key theological concept was collegiality, which is not at all Protestant but a result of renewed interest in patristics.
    The emphasis on the laity, probably the best thing to come out of the Council, seems to have had its basis in lived experience, the success of Catholic Action in Italy.
    So there probably was some Protestant envy among the council fathers, but there was plenty of fresh, thoroughly Catholic thinking going on too.
    As for the cultural phenomena of Catholicism looking more like Protestantism, I’d put forward the hypothesis that both Protestantism and contemporary Catholicism both tend to take their cues from the less admirable aspects of modernity: utilitarian, anti-tradition, anti-community and anti-metaphysical. The result was ritual, mystery, transcendence and authority needing to be stripped away. Christianity is not an “ism” but a community and a culture, though one that has largely lost the capacity to perpetuate itself because the tools of incultruration have been lost. The fact is, most Catholics and Protestants are basically emo Deists, in which case the cultural revolution of “Protestantizing” Catholicism should be seen as a disaster.
    The classical school movement has been a great thing, but lay people did not start them under the inspiration of the council but because the institutional church – the parish, catechism classes, catholic schools- became incapable of educating the next generation while the surrounding culture conspired to destroy the faith and morals of their children. Often starting a school was undertaken as a conscious act of defiance to the “Spirit of Vatican 2”. Maybe that should be taken as proof of the Holy Spirit, achieving one of the ends of the council in an entirely back-handed manner?

  2. Michael B. said,

    November 13, 2015 at 11:53 am

    James,

    These bits of Catholic history fascinate me. One hears a great deal about heretics being “burnt at the stake” in the Middle Ages, mostly by people who don’t have any training or really knowledge in the subject.

    Were the beliefs that you mentioned truly punishable by death? And if so, how do we square this as Catholics? How do we accept a Church that did such thing as an infallible guide to the truth?

    Michael

    • obscure said,

      November 14, 2015 at 2:43 am

      Religion could be said to support civil law (without considering the modern birth of international law of course) in the way that currency supports exchange. Hence one could say that there is an equivalency between ‘vicious’ heretics and financial criminals. Let’s have a brief look at financial crime and punishment in history:

      http://blogs.wsj.com/totalreturn/2012/07/27/should-crimes-of-capital-get-capital-punishment/

      I can only offer you meditations upon historical context and man’s social nature. Perhaps someone else will offer you something better. At the end of the day, only the saints seem to transcend historical context, but the Church as a visible institution participates in the social world of politics, culture, nations and all else.

      Forgive me if I’ve offered nothing of use.

      • Michael B. said,

        January 5, 2016 at 7:51 am

        In what respect are heretics vicious? Because their beliefs may potentially undermine the authority and legitimacy of the state?


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