What is at the heart of Catholicism?

The question I ask is one of ideology, rather than ecclesiology.  The heart of the Catholic Church is Jesus Christ present to us in the Eucharist.  The heart of the Catholic belief system is a way of understanding this presence.  Catholicism is not just whatever the reigning pope says, or even a mere aggregate of what past popes and councils have said.  If Catholic belief were just a two-millennium long pile of arbitrary bureaucratic memos, there would be no coherence to it, and orthodox Catholics would have no ground for resistance when prelates at the highest level plot to undermine the faith, as they are now doing through the coming Extraordinary Synod for the Normalization of Adultery.  No, the pronouncements of the Church, especially her creeds, are a wonderful witness to the Catholic faith, but the faith they witness precedes them.  It derives from the ecclesial-sacramental system instituted, as we believe, by Christ Himself and as interpreted through a distinct Catholic perspective.  This perspective is unitary, internally consistent, tightly interconnected, and rationally and imaginatively compelling.

What is the essence of this Catholic perspective?  What is distinctive about it?  I’ve just finished an essay trying to explain it in 15 pages, already a feat of condensation if I do say so myself.  Let’s see if I can give the gist of it in one.

Start with the core assumption nearly everyone makes about religion:  that what is really meaningful in religion and in life itself is what is most private:  my oh-so-sublime spirituality, my oh-so-pure intentions, my freely chosen and freely maintained relationships, and so forth.  Now suppose that the truth is the exact opposite.  Look at your soul honestly, and you’ll see it marked through and through by indeterminacy and ambiguity.  Your desires are a mess of contradiction.  You love God, yet you rebel against Him, and how can you know which is your more fundamental orientation?  Both good and evil motives worm their way into your every act.  Your very freedom seems to block you from making anything definite of your life.  Any commitment you make today, you might unmake tomorrow, and why should one moment’s will have authority over another’s?  To the extent that you are master of yourself at this moment, to that same extent you are master of yourself at only this moment.  And yet a life whose meaning is renegotiated every day can have no overall meaning–no core narrative or definitive resolution.

The only rescue from the indeterminacy of the subjective is to appropriate meaning from the outside through the use of symbols.  The meaning of a symbol is not in the minds of its participants; it is an objective fact of the public world.  As intensional and yet mind-transcending realities, symbols are not limited like personal statements are to the comprehension and identity of their speaker.  An entire community can perform a numerically single symbolic act whose objective meaning is not wholly grasped by any individual participant.  And yet we can make the symbol’s full meaning ours by consciously affixing our assent to it.  Through the natural symbols of human nature and the supernatural symbols of the Church, God has, one might say, lent us His own words for our use, allowing us to impose meaning on our lives–made definitive through His borrowed authority–and to worship Him worthily.

God’s ultimate gift to us is to make us His sons, participants in the relationship that eternally exists between God the Father and God the Son.  For this to happen, it was necessary that the Son’s filial self-offering to the Father be more than Jesus’ private spiritual state.  It had to be placed in the public realm as a symbol for appropriation by others.  The sacrifice of Calvary was this symbol, a symbol whose depth of meaning surpasses anything merely human and encompasses the fullness of the Son’s self-defining relationship to the Father.  We incorporate ourselves into this divine sacrifice through its re-presentation in the Eucharist.

This alertness to the embedded symbolism of the public world and its role as a mode of God’s presence to the soul informs all Catholic beliefs.  It is the origin of everything distinctive in our moral code:  our prohibition against murder (even the popular kinds like abortion and suicide) from the symbolism of the human being, our sexual morality from the holy and immutable meaning of the conjugal act, our conservatism from the awesome symbolism of political authority.  One finds it very strongly in our concept of vocation.  In every marriage and ordination, God empowers a person to give an overall form and project to his life.  God’s borrowed authority gives the vow a definitiveness that places it above the reach of that person’s often fickle future will.  God gives one the freedom to overcome freedom and to fix oneself on a central life commitment through which the soul can be challenged and grow.  Lastly, the final resolution of each life and the definitive victory over sin, something we are powerless to give to ourselves with our own isolated autonomy, is provided by God’s judgement and His grace operating in the cleansing fires of Purgatory.

The Church’s absolute prohibition against divorce and remarriage is not a minor issue, not something on which any compromise is possible.  Any compromise would mean setting utilitarian considerations above respect for objective sacramental meanings (in this case, the explicit promise of fidelity till death, which means what it means regardless of any private provisos in the minds of the participants) and the existential mastery of irrevocable life commitments (since if they were to be revocable, they could no longer be life-ordering).  But this would be to sacrifice the essence of Catholicism and to throw us back into the prison of subjectivity.

66 thoughts on “What is at the heart of Catholicism?

  1. Pingback: What is at the heart of Catholicism? | Reaction Times

  2. Stunningly beautiful, sublime and inspiring, Bonald. A fitting and excellent conclusion to/summary of your series at Throne and Altar.

    • Thanks John. I doubt many people will go through that whole essay, but hopefully some will read this and get the gist of it.

      • Well, I for one am going to toddle on over and read the whole thing quite closely. Thanks for this synopsis, Bonald. I love your emphasis over the last few years on the notion that if symbols are to mean anything truly – and if, therefore, statements or acts composed of symbols are to mean anything coherently, if logic or English or music are to be capable of performing any real work for us, at all – then symbols must mean something *actually.* The objectivity of meanings re-enchants reality.

      • I read the whole thing. Like Kristor, I also very much like your emphasis on symbols.

        I’ll probably re-read the whole series in the future so that I can try to tie it altogether in my own mind.

      • A sudden thought just struck me, though: could the whole idea of being able to attribute meaning and significance to one’s actions through one’s private intentions and thoughts (as opposed to natural symbolism) be a kind of private language, the sort which Wittgenstein’s famous argument attacks? (I apologise if I’ve misinterpreted the argument, as I have merely a cursory acquaintance with it, and would gladly accept correction at the hands of someone more knowledgeable in this area if that indeed is the case)

  3. I understand the heart of Catholicism in relation to its fundamental schism with Protestantism.

    The Catholic believes that one must gain salvation through a literal physical embrace of Jesus Christ through the Eucharist whereas the Protestant claims one only needs faith alone in the truth of Jesus Christ to gain salvation. The question is one of radicalism and liberation of the Word and which side represents what? If, in rejecting the Protestant claim of salvation through faith alone, the Catholic is claiming that salvation MUST come through an actual physical embrace of Jesus Christ (an empirical claim) then this seems intuitively to me a more radical claim and more in line with what we understand in modern terms as the “liberating” of the Word. The claim clearly makes salvation less accessible and seems to be a counterintuitive strike against God-ordained free will.

    For in the heart of Catholicism seems to be the rejection of salvation through faith AT ALL. For the Catholic, one cannot be saved by his faith in Jesus Christ no matter how great that faith is. Whereas, one might have no faith at all and gain salvation because he “touched” Jesus Christ through a process largely “out of his hands.” One can only be saved by an actual worldly empirical connection to Jesus Christ, but this does not actually require any faith. This, to me, is the heart of Catholicism and I, at this point, makes no judgement on its merits other than to say it reads like a more radical and liberating claim.

    • In Mark 5, we see the story of the woman who had “suffered an issue of blood” for about twelve years, resolving to seek out Jesus Christ under the certainty that merely touching his garments would be sufficient to heal her. She does so, whereupon Jesus confronts her and says, “Your faith has made you whole.”

      If her faith made her whole, why was it necessary for her to leave her house at all? Why was her faith not sufficient to heal her from the comfort of her bed?

      Catholics don’t necessarily disagree with Protestants on “faith alone,” we disagree about what “faith alone” actually means. Christ seems (to my untrained ears) to be saying that, in the order of events that ended with her healing, her faith had causal priority. In other words, an actual faith will naturally seek expression in this way, but it is the faith and not the expression which “matters.” This isn’t that hard to understand; we all agree that a man’s love for his wife is more important than any particular expression of it to her (in words, gifts, lovemaking, etc.), but that doesn’t mean these things don’t matter. They matter precisely because of his love for her, and any reasonable person would conclude that a man who deliberately refused to affirm his love to her by any means on the grounds that “it’s what’s in the heart that matters” would be demented.

      For the Catholic, one cannot be saved by his faith in Jesus Christ no matter how great that faith is. Whereas, one might have no faith at all and gain salvation because he “touched” Jesus Christ through a process largely “out of his hands.” One can only be saved by an actual worldly empirical connection to Jesus Christ, but this does not actually require any faith.

      I might be misunderstanding you, but the plain reading of this is simply a total misrepresentation of what Catholics actually believe. The Sacraments, including the Eucharist, are perfectly representative of what Bonald is talking about here. They are symbols whose objective value is rooted in the actions of Christ and which are efficacious only to the extent to which we consciously appropriate the content of those symbols and apply them to ourselves (with some limited exceptions, e.g., infant baptism), hence the traditional formulation that sacraments are symbols that actually cause what they symbolize. Logically, it is impossible to appropriate the content of such symbols without faith, and faithful Catholics regard people who do just that as the vilest of desecrators. Nancy Pelosi’s infidelity makes lies of her acts of communion; she eats and drinks judgment on herself. Given her manifest lack of public repentance, it is safe to assume too that she leaves the confessional with one more sin than she went in with. And if I were to baptize an unbaptized unrepentant sinner, it would not cleanse him of original sin, at least not until he actually and truly repented and thereby appropriated retroactively the character of the act. Etc. etc. etc. There is moreover the fact that while we believe salvation is normatively mediated by full participation in the sacramental life of the Church, there can be exceptional cases of people outside that communion — either due to invincible ignorance or sufficiently other inculpable factors — to whom salvation is nevertheless made available by extraordinary means unknown to us. And then there is the case of those who are saved by faith prior to baptism; had I died in the eight months or so after my decision to convert but prior to my baptism, I nevertheless could have been died with the surety that my desire for baptism would suffice.

      • Proph…

        I don’t read the sacraments as “symbols.” I read the Eucharist as the actual touching of Jesus Christ through Catholic ritual. I read the Eucharist as an empirical claim that then discounts the needs for faith at all. The Catholic believes that in order to be saved one must actually touch Jesus Christ. The faith of the individual Catholic is not required as the “touching” is an event of Church’s hands.

      • The Eucharist proper is not a symbol (being the actual body and blood of Chris) but the act of communion has a symbolic character on numerous levels. Hence its efficacy in conferring grace depends on the worthiness with which one approaches communion, and hence the proposal to open communion to manifest and unrepentant adulterers is a source of such consternation for, like, the thousand or so good Catholics left in the world that aren’t total suck-ups to the hierarchy.

      • The Catholic believes that in order to be saved one must actually touch Jesus Christ. The faith of the individual Catholic is not required as the “touching” is an event of Church’s hands.

        The Church teaches neither of these doctrines. God may save whomever he wishes, with or without the mediation of sacraments or their ministers. The sacraments are powerful means of salvific grace, to be sure, but God’s power is not limited only to them. On the contrary, it is ubiquitous.

        Nor does the Church teach that faith is not necessary to salvation. If you don’t believe in God, then partaking of the Eucharist isn’t going to do you a bit of good, soteriologically. Indeed, if you partake falsely, you considerably worsen your soteriological prospects.

      • Kristor…

        This is not how I understand the schism between Catholics and Protestants.

        I understand that the Catholic rejects the Protestant’s claim that salvation may be achieved through faith alone BUT what this really means and how the schism has actually come about is that the Catholic rejection is of a salvation through faith AT ALL. The Catholic cannot claim that faith is needed to actually touch Jesus Christ through the Eucharist because the event that brings this about is not in the hands of the individual but “in the hands” of the Church. It is an empirical claim that doesn’t require faith of the individual, but simply requires one to “faithfully” follow the Catholic rituals that bring about the empirical connection to Jesus Christ. This is how I read the schism. I will certainly be corrected if there is something else to the schism that I am missing?

      • You are correct in thinking that the Church teaches that the confection of the Eucharistic Presence depends not at all on the faith of the communicants, or for that matter of the minister, or of any other creaturely agent. But it is not correct to infer from this that the mere touching of the Body confers salvation. That touching did not, after all, confer salvation upon Judas, or upon the Temple soldier who struck Jesus, or upon the legionaries who nailed him to the Cross. It did confer salvation upon St. Longinus, who pierced the heart of Jesus with his lance, and according to tradition was splashed with the blood and water that then poured forth (in a sense, Longinus was the very first member of the Church to be baptized). But the salvation of Longinus did not happen willy nilly and only because he was drenched with the blood of God, in rather the way that a sharp knock on the head would render him unconscious, but precisely because of his profession of faith in Christ (Matthew 27:54; Mark 15:39).

        In Catholic doctrine, faith is absolutely central to salvation. That’s one of the reasons we say the Creed at every Mass. Liturgy is not a substitute for faith. It is an expression and enactment of faith, like any other good and righteous work of the faithful (“liturgy” is Greek ergon, “work” + leit, “public,” from laos, “people:’ thus, “work of the people”).

        NB that saving faith need not even be understood as Christian by the believer in question; nor, therefore, does it anywise depend upon his explicit communion with the Catholic Church. From the Catechism:

        845 … “Outside the Church there is no salvation.”

        846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:

        Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.

        847 This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:

        Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience — those too may achieve eternal salvation.

        848 “Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.”

        Faithful Protestants by definition do *not* know, or ergo believe, “that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ” – for if they *did* know this, they would ipso facto believe it, and presumably, as faithful Christians, would instantly join the Church. Nevertheless they can be saved.

      • You are correct in thinking that the Church teaches that the confection of the Eucharistic Presence depends not at all on the faith of the communicants, or for that matter of the minister, or of any other creaturely agent.

        I think Fr Augustine (and Proph) have it right, both in this narrow point and in the more general subject thordaddy is addressing. Catholics don’t believe “faith” is about intellectual assent to particular factual claims—not necessary and not sufficient. Catholics don’t believe that a priest needs to exhibit intellectual assent to anything at all in order to confect the Eucharist. A priest must intend to do what (he thinks) the Church does when confecting the Eucharist. If he thinks the Church is casting a spell to curse all ham sandwiches everywhere, and he intends to do that, then the Eucharist is confected.

        The confecting of the Eucharist thus depends critically on the faith of the priest. He must intend to do what he is supposed to do, what the Church does, what the Church commands he do. That is faith: an active intent to conform yourself to God’s will. This is one reason that priests who fail to “say the black, do the red” are shocking to the conscience. They are creating a strong external appearance that they do NOT intend to do what the Church does. That is also why poor documents like those of Vatican II and its progeny are shocking to the conscience. How shall I obey extrusions of gibberish—are you trying to prevent me having faith? That is also why Popes who speak in gibberish or internal contradiction or in apparent contradiction to the deposit of the faith are bad Popes. How shall I obey such a shepherd?

        Maybe having particular beliefs is conducive to having faith. Certainly having particular beliefs is objectively required of the faithful (that is, obedient Catholics abjure heresy and believe what the Church teaches). But you are not Catholic because of what you believe. You believe because you are Catholic.

        I remember an exchange on some forum in which a Protestant was insistently asking what he had to believe to be a Catholic. CAF types were happily producing lists for him. The conversation was getting nowhere because the real answer to the question is either “you are not asking the right question” or “what the Church teaches: whatever that may happen to be.” The distinctive of Catholicism vis a vis Protestantism is: do the drill, finish the drill, become the drill.

        Intellectual assent is not the whole of faith, but a beginning thereof.

        For some people. For you. For me. But it does not have to be. The relationship is not functional and necessary. For most Catholics historically (I’ll bet), the relationship has been from habitual obedience to intellectual assent, not the reverse.

      • Not to disagree with anything you have said here, but only to clarify, I would reply that if the confection of the Eucharist depended upon the faith of the minister, then it could fully succeed – could, that is to say, actually happen – only when the minister is a saint. Our faith is dim, and weak. One can intend to do what the Church intends to do in a given rite without either understanding or crediting what exactly that might be. Which is good, right? Because, which of us could honestly say that we understand what is happening in baptism or the Eucharist? This is why even an atheist can administer a valid baptism, so long as he uses water and the Trinitarian formula and intends to do what the Church intends by baptism.

        As you say, if the rite is to be valid the minister must do what he is supposed to do; and this means among other things that he must mean to do what he is doing, even if he thinks the whole thing is nonsense. It may be argued whether one can mean to do something one doesn’t believe with a whole heart. All I can say to that is that I do it all the time, as when I will the good of someone even when I am quite angry with him. The connection I would draw here is to the etymology of “believe” that Fr. Augustine explained, and which I have always loved. We believe in God; we don’t know quite what it is we do, in so doing, nor therefore can we quite know how to do it properly (thank Heaven for the rubric!); but we do it, in love.

        The priest confects the Eucharist in persona Christi. Now what this means is not that the priest himself confects the Eucharist by virtue of his own poor creaturely powers, as though he were a mage and God were at his beck and call, but rather that Christ confects the Eucharist by way of the person of the priest. The success of the rite depends not on the perfection of the minister or of the liturgy, but on the ingress of the charism for which it provides an occasion.

        Intellectual assent is not the whole of faith, but a beginning thereof.

        For some people. For you. For me. But it does not have to be.

        I’m sure you are right in this. That’s why I used the indefinite article.

    • I think you err, by cutting down the understanding of “faith,” to “intellectual assent.”

      In the Greek, and in the Latin, the term for “faith” (“pistis” and “fides,” respectively) do not mean “intellectual assent,” but have more to do with “trust, confidence,” and with the signs or tokens that produce and/or demonstrate said trust and confidence. The same is true of the term for “believe,” which in Greek is merely the verbal form of pistis (“pisteuo,” to place trust, to give trust, to entrust something for safekeeping,” and even “to comply with”), and in Latin is “credo” (to give a loan, to entrust something for preservation, etc. – it’s where we get the word “credit”) So, somebody who “intellectually assents” to Christianity but does not entrust himself to God and give sure tokens of his trust through obedience and action, does not have actual faith, no matter how much he intellectually assents to the facts of the Gospel. Contrarily, a Catholic who gives tokens of his trust by obeying Christ, submitting to be joined to the Church by entrusting himself to Christ in Baptism, the Eucharist, the life of prayer and good works, etc., is the man who has real faith, and who truly believes, in the true sense of these terms as they were understood in antiquity. Faith and Belief also had semantic shades of “finding something trustworthy, being convinced,” but these semantic shades cannot be divorced from the whole picture of what these words meant to the original readers of the New Testament writings. St. James, seeing that some were divorcing these meanings from each other, wrote his letter demonstrating the proper understanding of an integral faith: namely, that faith was not real faith, unless it had works – works that proceeded along the logical lines of faith as we have described it, rather than as deeds that demanded and merited the wage of salvation (since that would merit only disappointment). First of these authentically faithful works, are to make the required contact with Christ, entrusting one’s self to Him in obedience, and in the Sacraments, because are precisely the things that He left us and enjoined upon us – He, who left no writings, but who did leave us with Apostles, Baptism, a Eucharist, etc.. That is what faith is – the embrace of Christ in trust, not the assent to Gospel factoids in the mind.

      In other words, true faith and belief are entirely coincident with a real contact with Christ, and it is the Catholic who knows this and thus has real faith and belief. The Protestant, planning to be saved by assent to an idea in the head, is precisely the man who does not believe, and does not have faith, in the Christian senses of those terms.

      • We agree, for I never have ‘[cut] down the understanding of “faith,” to “intellectual assent.”‘

        Intellectual assent is not the whole of faith, but a beginning thereof. A wholehearted assent to a proposition, given without mental reservation, cannot but be carried into and inform the concrete practice of life.

    • For the Catholic, one cannot be saved by his faith in Jesus Christ no matter how great that faith is. Whereas, one might have no faith at all and gain salvation because he “touched” Jesus Christ through a process largely “out of his hands.” One can only be saved by an actual worldly empirical connection to Jesus Christ, but this does not actually require any faith. This, to me, is the heart of Catholicism and I, at this point, makes no judgement on its merits other than to say it reads like a more radical and liberating claim

      Well, yes and no. Thankfully, the effectiveness of transubstantiation actually taking place is out of the hands of the communicant – so long as the priest intends to do what the Church intends during consecration, proper matter and form, proper faculties of the priest, etc., transubstantiation occurs. This makes sense – what if everyone of the 200 people present had faith in transubstantiation, but Mr. 201 did not – would it make sense for Mr. 201 all by his lonesome be able to invalidate the miracle of transubstantiation? What if it was Mr. 2001? It is God (through the priest), not man, that transubtantiates the bread and wine into His body and blood.

      But, if the communicant (Mr. 201) has no faith at all, no faith in Christ, and no faith that what Christ commands actually occurs (“This is my body…this is my blood”), then the reality of transubstantiation does no good to the communicant. In fact, as St. Paul teaches, it does harm (brings judgment upon him for receiving unworthily). So yes, one must gain salvation through a literal physical embrace of Jesus Christ through the Eucharist, as He Himself taught (“If you do not eat my flesh and drink my blood…”), but far from lacking faith, it requires a much greater faith in Christ and His teachings, His words, His promises. Many of His followers left Him after this teaching – seems to me that it is not to be taken lightly.

    • Your understanding is incorrect, and this is the result of poor catechization brought about by the indeterminacy of thought which is both a blessing and a curse of the English language. And originally due to Martin Luther’s mistranslation of scripture into German, which itself may have been the result of a reliance on Latin scriptural translations rather than examining original source material (which was in Greek, in this case.)

      Protestants and others who wish a better understanding of why 1. Catholics believe in sola fide, and 2. the Protestant interpretation of “sola fide” is heresy, would be well-served to begin by researching the dual meaning of “dikaioo” in the Testaments, including both the declarative and the transformational connotations.

  4. Kristor…

    Bear with me, I have come to Christianity neither through Catholicism nor Protestantism, but through radical liberalism.

    If, as you say, faith is absolutely central to the Catholic, but at the very same time the Catholic will assert that the Christian cannot be saved through faith alone then it seems that the Catholic/Protestant schism is over the actual touching of Jesus Christ through the rituals of the Church and how these empirical “doings” are primary and necessary and lay at the “heart” of Catholicism. The schism is between those Catholics who believe, at minimum, one must actually touch Jesus Christ for a chance at salvation and the Protestant who claims that one may gain salvation through faith alone and not needing to actually touch Jesus Christ. Is this not the real schism? Is not the heart of Catholicism that one must touch (a real empirical event) Jesus Christ for a chance at salvation?

    • Nope.

      Perhaps what you are thinking of is the Catholic distinctive of belief in transubstantiation as the means of the Real Presence in the Eucharist. Most Protestants believe in a different means, or even meaning, of that Presence, although only the memorialists think it merely symbolic.

      • What is the schism between Catholics and Protestants? To me, this schism lay at the heart of Catholicism, but it has not been clarified in my mind by the Catholics within. Catholics see Protestants as “liberating” Christians. What is the source of this “liberation” other than the idea of salvation through faith alone? And if the Catholic rejects this notion, what is the Catholic actually asserting? One must literally touch Jesus Christ in order to have a chance at salvation? I see this as the schism.

      • It’s also wrong to imagine that Catholicism is defined by opposition to Protestantism. I deliberately avoided Catholic-vs-Protestant arguments in my essay because these don’t really reflect the way the Catholic Church understands herself. If attacked for “works righteousness” or whatever she will respond, but the categories of that debate are not the ones most natural to the Church. The Catholic Church existed long before Protestantism, and the best way to understand her is to momentarily forget about Protestantism and to look at her on her own terms.

      • What is the schism between Catholics and Protestants?

        I alluded to it above when I said the difference as such is the understanding of “faith alone.” Protestants view it minimalistically, as “faith, excluding all else.” Catholics view it in terms of logical fulfillment, as “faith, which (when actual) seeks expression in particular ways.” Here again, we have to ask how, if the woman who touched the hem of Christ’s garments was healed by her faith, it was still necessary for her to seek him out and touch his garments, if faith alone (in the minimalist sense) suffices.

        Of course expression is not always available. A man who loves his wife may be unable to express it with gifts because he is poor, or with lovemaking because he is impotent, or with words because he is mute or otherwise disabled, and in that case no one would hold his failure to express his love against him. In a similar way, Aristotle — an obviously virtuous man to whom the true faith was never available — can’t be held accountable for his lack of faith or his failure to avail himself of the sacraments. On the other hand, we might question whether or not a wealthy, eloquent, virile man who behaves coldly toward his wife can really be said to love her. And why not? Because love, when it is real, seeks expression. It is diffusive of itself.

      • So I am reading the schism from a Catholic point of view to be the Protestant’s rejection of the objective, public symbolism as necessary to gain salvation?

      • Thordaddy,

        Catholics didn’t rebel against the Church, the protestants did. If you want to know why, go ask them.

      • I understand that…

        And the “rebellion” was in the idea that one could touch God on faith alone AND outside of the Church…

        This was the “liberation” of Christianity as I understand it…

      • I have never heard that term before.

        The rebellion was the idea that one could get divorced, and break vows of celibacy, and practice usury and not have to go to confession and create the New Jersusalem on Earth, and to give all power to the State, and hate one’s enemies, etc, etc.

      • Yes… That ^^^ sounds like Protestantism equals Liberalism.

        I understand this charge… But, the Church looks increasingly like Liberalism, too.

        I don’t think you’ve reached to the heart of the schism… The real fundamental dispute… It revolves around the Catholic’s rejection of salvation through “faith alone.”

        In my mind, that rejection says something specific about the absolute need of the Church in gaining salvation, but I don’t feel I’ve reached that specificity as of yet.

      • Protestantism doesn’t equal liberalism, though it is susceptible to it.

        My last comment was a bit too cranky, the Church had lost much of its legitimate authority during the Renaissance with the great schism, the marrano problem which seemed to undermine the efficacy of baptism, and the introduction of non-Christian neo-Platonic and Kabbalistic elements into the heirarchy.

      • @thordaddy,

        Your comments are so far off-base and nonsensical to anyone with a rudimentary understanding of any aspect of the Christian religion that I am inclined to question the opacity of your intent. You say that you “came to Christianity” by way of radical liberalism; do you in fact consider yourself a Christian (see the Creed) or do you in fact remain a radical liberal?

        In any case, you could correct some of your most egregious errors by reading a few entries in any encyclopedia. I suggest you go and do that.

  5. So I am reading the schism from a Catholic point of view to be the Protestant’s rejection of the objective, public symbolism as necessary to gain salvation?

    The fault lines of the rupture (I don’t think we can properly call it schism) touch on many issues beyond the sacraments. It is also difficult to say “Protestants” in a general sense, since there are different degrees of views among the various sects. What maybe true of low-church American evangelicals might not be true of high-church Lutherans or Anglicans.

    I’d say you’re right in part in regards to public symbolism. I think it ultimately comes down to what the respective traditions base their authority on. For the Catholic answer I would refer you to Bonald’s writings. Another good (and lengthy) volume on this is Brady S. Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation it provides a good and I think fair overview of the theological, historical and sociological differences.

  6. Hmm…thank you for what you faithful Catholic men do here. I only want to add that the Church never uses such terms as “physical” or “empirical” to describe the Eucharist. “Metaphysical” and “substantial” (referring to the actual substance of His sacredness and not the physical accidental qualities of bread and wine that remain) are most proper, but “sacramental” is wisely used for the laity.

    Bonald, I will enjoy reading your essay soon enough. But I was immediately struck by your first sentence: You surely don’t mean to call the Faith an ideology?

    • Catherine…

      Well… I’m not a Catholic, but I don’t read that the Catholics within have done a clear job of defining the schism which in my mind boils down to reaching salvation and the Catholic assertion that one must, in the minimum, TOUCH Jesus Christ in order to gain salvation whereas the Protestant asserts in only takes faith alone.

      • The heart of the schism between Protestantism and Catholicism is communion in order vs. autonomy in anarchy.

        What I mean by that, is that the Catholic Faith is based on connection – “touch” – as you put it, with our Saviour directly, in the Body He established. For the Catholic, “faith” is understood in the original sense of the New Testament terms. “Pistis” (the NT word for “faith”) does not mean “intellectual belief,” but “entrustment, safekeeping, a token demonstrating one’s commitment and good credit.” In other words, for the Catholic, “faith” is “the embrace” of Christ. There is no distinction between faith and the embrace, as though one were intellectual belief in Christ and one were touching Christ. “Even the demons believe, and tremble.” For the Catholic, simple (intellectual) belief is not really germane to salvation. St. James’ whole epistle, was written to correct the error of many, who separated “faith” (intellectual belief) from “works.” He wrote his letter to demonstrate that “faith,” properly understood in its Christian sense, necessarily involves works – and that these works are not “extra” things that show the “faith” is real, but rather, these works are *themselves* the very operations of the process of faith. “Belief” could have been a good translation of of “pisteuo” (the NT term for “believe”) 700 years ago, when it meant “to adhere in love.” Maybe you can see the similarity between the words “believe” and “beloved;” they come from the same Old English verb, which was a strong vowel-change verb; “ea” in the present tense (which came to be “ie”), “o” in the past. In any case, for Catholics, “faith” is not intellectual assent to something, but the actual process of acting in trust with sure signs of one’s confidence. Amongst the first things that Christian faith must do, then, are the entrusting of one’s self to Christ with the signs of confidence that He Himself left and enjoined upon us. He left us no writings and ideas for our “agreement;” rather, He left us a Church, Apostles to rule it, Baptism to join us to it, a Eucharist to remember Him (and, unless we eat of it, “we have no life in us”), etc. For the Christian – i.e., the Catholic – “faith” means completely entrusting ourselves to this system of good order left by Christ, believing in Him (in the Old English sense of clinging to Him, our beloved). Intellectual belief is part of this, but it is the prerequisite “doorway” to full faith.

        For the sectarian, however – i.e., the Protestant – individual freedom is key. The Protestant wants to feel that he can come to Jesus on his own terms. Protestants obviously had to completely reject the Church, then, since She stood forth as the only authentic locus of living in Christ. The Protestant had to convince himself that he could sit in judgment on all the questions of ultimate truth. For him, then, “belief” and “faith” changed from a trusting embrace of the Church and Sacraments which Jesus left us, into a mere intellectual assent to the ideas in the Bible. This radically unchristian belief system, could only make sense after the invention of the printing press and widespread literacy. The idea that God would become Incarnate to leave us a religion that would be based on reading books about Him and agreeing with them intellectually, before it was possible for the average man to read, let alone afford his own copy of these books, is absurd in the extreme. But the Protestant wants very much to do things his way, and does not want to submit to the Church. Yet nowhere in the Bible that the Protestant claims to “believe” (i.e., with which he claims to intellectually agree), does it say that a man should decide things for himself, or reject the Church, or part ways with its leaders, whenever his intellectual fancies convince him that he is right about something. The New Testament calls the Church (not “the Bible”) the “Pillar and Bulwark of the Truth.” Christ said that a brother should be corrected privately, and then brought to the Church. “And if he will not hear the Church, let him be to you as the heathen and tax collector.” The Apostles, in the Jerusalem Council (recorded in Acts), did not pore over “the Bible” to make their decision, but rather, praying, decreed the Truth with Apostolic authority, together with some of the bishops they first ordained. It is very clear in the Bible, that the Bible is not the authority for the Christian. This is because the New Testament inaugurated a new period in history when “the law will be written on their hearts,” and when men, upon whom the Holy Spirit had descended, and who had been incorporated into Christ’s very own Body, would rule with a divine authority. “And I shall give you the keys of the Kingdom… and whatever ye bind on earth shall be bound in heaven… etc.). For the Catholic, “faith” and “belief” means entrusting one’s self to Christ, and to this Body, which is His. But the Protestant, wanting to be free of all these bothersome intrusions upon his own intellectual freedom, and wanting to be the sole arbiter of his own, private truth, had to sweep all this away. Yet because a Protestant is only a proto-liberal and a proto-secular-humanist, he was not ready to stand naked and alone as the only source of truth. He needed to cling, emotionally, to something that seemed holy. Thus, “the Bible” becomes his authority. But, of course, since nobody can judge him in his private interpretation, “the Bible” is really just a stand in for “his own ideas about the Bible,” i.e., himself. The Protestant believes in himself, and in no other authority above him… except God, perhaps, but God is whatever the Protestant believes Him to be. In all things, then, the Protestant believes in himself and worships himself, even when he is very sincerely trying to do the right thing.

        Thus, in short: the Catholic is all about communion in good order. He adheres to the Body of Christ, and does not believe “faith” has anything to do with his private views. He understands “faith” to mean “complete entrustment of myself to Jesus Christ; the first way to do this, is to adhere to His Body, as He founded it.” He knows that the Bible nowhere said “accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior,” but that it *does* say “as many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” The Catholic understands that real trust and belief can ONLY be lived through deeds, not mere assent to ideas in a theoretical way, and this necessitates “the embrace of Christ” or “touching Christ” as you put it. But the Protestant is all about getting his own way and doing what seems best to him, while maintaining a pretense of “obedience” to “the Word of God.” But because he is himself the ultimate arbiter of what “the word of God” is and means, the Protestant is actually a spiritual anarchist, believing in himself more than anything else. He is the beginning of the great apostasy, the forerunner of the secular humanist, and of the commie pinko, and of the transgendered fascist. All of them, like the Protestant, believe in themselves and in their own ideas.

    • In fact, I have not read one Catholic within deny that an actual physical touching of Jesus Christ is absolutely necessary in order to gain possible salvation. This to me is exactly how one translates a rejection of “faith alone” and defines the source of the schism quite clearly.

      • Uhh, are our responses not visible to you? Kristor and I both denied it explicitly. It is not to be found anywhere within Catholic teaching. If you are aware of a source that says so I’d appreciate it a citation of it. I’ve also addressed at least twice now the difference between Catholic and Protestant understandings of the role of faith in salvation.

      • But where do you get this absurd idea? What does the Eucharist have to do with “physical touching”? Surely you can understand a union with the God-man that transcends the physical world yet acknowledges our need for sign and ritual. Protestantism reduces faith in Christ to a mental mode; Catholicism treats man according to his natural and supernatural faculties. We are physical beings and need physical signs to guide us in understanding and embracing spiritual truths. But they are not reduced to the physical; it is a wholesome union with Christ Who *took on flesh.*

        But more than any of this, the Eucharist, instituted just hours before Our Lord’s sacrifice at Calvary, was *that very sacrifice.* Christ presented Himself (which He can do because He is God and outside of time) in an unbloody manner of bread and wine: body and blood, the separation of which mean death. He said right then, “This is My body.” And after His death we read that the apostles dedicated themselves to the breaking of the bread! If this was merely to help us recall His Passion, why did we need a ritual for it? Protestantism, of course, has reduced even the Last Supper to a once (maybe four times) a year event. Perhaps there is something more to faith than mental acknowledgement? But the Eucharist is more than a means for recollection; it’s a reality, not merely a symbol. The word “metaphysical” refers to the ultimate reality of existence. Hence, His being is metaphysically present where we see physical bread and wine. We need Christ’s sacrifice not only as an historical event (oftentimes obscure) but as a truth we are confronted to live in union with. This is the key to the Eucharist: union with Christ’s one sacrifice on the Cross. He is eternal and His sacrifice is perpetual, so He has granted us a means of imparting His graces so that we will continually be united to Him. God is a spiritual being, but Christ as God became man. Hence, we receive Him in more than a “spiritual” way; we receive His whole substance, and we are called to continue in His presence always.

        I’m sorry if any of this is scattered or hard or what have you; I hope you will be open to understanding what Catholicism actually is. Learning history would also be very helpful in this: why would God allow His Church to be taken over by heretics for well over a thousand years? This is amazingly what Protestants believe. I believe God never abandoned His flock, as He told St. Peter.

      • Excuse me Proph…

        But if you and Kristor explicitly deny that a Catholic must touch Jesus Christ (AND have faith in this connection) through the rituals of the Church in order to possibly gain salvation, are you not saying that “faith alone” will suffice?

        The schism is that Protestantism is a “liberation” of Catholicism…

        What does this actually mean?


        If faith alone is insufficient for salvation then what other method of connection to Jesus Christ is there other than a real one?

        Does not the Eucharist represent an actual touching of Jesus Christ and not merely elaborate ritual? And is it not the Church that actually creates this connection and not the individual believer?

      • But if you and Kristor explicitly deny that a Catholic must touch Jesus Christ (AND have faith in this connection) through the rituals of the Church in order to possibly gain salvation, are you not saying that “faith alone” will suffice?

        No. All we are saying is that the Eucharist is not required for salvation. We are not saying what is required for salvation. That’s a different question.

      • I don’t know what we can say to make things clearer for you. Yes, the “connection” is real and actual. When did I ever say it was only an elaborate ritual? The Church is an instrument through which CHRIST grants us His grace. And just as in prayer, God is always open to us, because by His nature He is Love (and exists in such a way that cannot be described here), but it is we who block our beings to the Spirit’s inspirations (in various, individual degrees), even when we receive Christ in the Eucharist. When the ritual is done validly, Christ is always present (so that is objective), but how much grace we receive is dependent upon our faith.

      • Catherine…

        We really have to back up and ask how my two cents — coming from outside Catholicism as a genuine white Supremacist — on what represents the “heart” of Catholicism became an invitation to debate?

        The “heart” of Catholicism, to me, is straightforward.

        Catholicism is where one can actually touch God… Something more than connecting through “faith alone.” AND… This is REQUIRED to gain salvation.

        Please specify your dispute?

      • Thordaddy, the Catholics here have been trying to tell you only that your understanding of Catholic doctrine on salvation, however honest, is simply mistaken. You are quite right that Catholics believe in the Real Presence of God in the Eucharist, and that we understand our ability to partake of his Body as a precious gift, and a huge aid to sanctification. But it is simply not the case that Catholics believe that actually touching God in this way is required to gain salvation. You should drop that notion. “Catholics think the Eucharist is required for salvation” is a false proposition. We just don’t. It’s as false as “Mohammedans think Jesus is God.”

      • Kristor…

        Then what is the Catholic/Protestant schism?

        Put it in layman’s terms…

        What does it means when a Catholic charges a Protestant of “liberalizing” Christianity?

        It seems straightforward what the charge amounts to?

      • But really…

        I wasn’t attempting to assert my notion of Catholic doctrine…

        I simply answered the question of the post as an “outsider” and my understanding is that the “heart” of Catholicism is in being the “place” where one can actually touch God.

      • If my infant son had dies immediately after baptism, he would have been a saint. Priests are fond of putting this into their baptismal homilies when they don’t know what else to say (“If you’ve never kissed a saint…”). My son won’t receive the Eucharist for years.

      • @ Proph and others,

        I would like to politely suggest that you not allow someone like “thordaddy” to hijack your blog.

    • I mean to say that I have written about Catholicism only as a belief system, that is from an ideological perspective, neglecting its history and devotional practice (except insofar as these are objects of core beliefs). Suppose you were confronted by a list of several dozen beliefs of any belief system–communism, Islam, whatever. It would be reasonable to ask what single principle or perspective makes all of these beliefs fit together as a single system, why it should be that questioning any one of them would be tantamount to questioning them all (if, indeed, it would be). That’s what I’m attempting here. There’s a widespread impression that Catholicism doesn’t have this sort of coherence, that it’s held together just by authority. An ideological study of the Faith cannot, of course, entirely close itself off to the wider life of the Church, simply because of the sort of ideology Catholicism is, an ideology that stresses the limits of ideas and that insists on extracting its substance from a tradition with a distinct history and ritual.

      • But the claim of Catholicism is a bold and grand one…

        I am not taking it lightly… But it seems that even well heeled Catholics aren’t being upfront about the Catholic assertion concerning a Christian’s salvation…

        One doesn’t need to be a Catholic to know why Liberalism has attacked the Church so relentlessly…

        Yet, it seems as though many Catholics can’t see it…

        There is supposed to be an ACTUAL connection to God through the Church, its traditions, rituals, sacraments, etc…

        One becomes a Catholic TO TOUCH God through Church…

        Is this not a fact?

        And is not the schism with Protestantism in the idea that one can touch God on “faith alone” and outside of the Church? Is this not why the charge of “liberating” Christianity is made against Protestantism?

      • I find the word “touch” strange, but if you are saying that we connect with God through the Sacraments which must be administered by the Church, then yeah. Though God is in also omnipresent and we connect with Him in other ways as well.

        You are weirdly trying to frame Christianity as merely a kind of recipe for salvation. Perhaps that’s a Protestant thing, but it is definitely not a Catholic thing. Perhaps that is what is leading you to these bizarre seeming statements.

        Also, as a Catholic and a student of history, the idea of a “schism with Protestantism” over some doctrinal issue doesn’t seem right. The Reformation was war against the Church as a corporate person, not a quibble over doctrine.

        I have never heard anyone “charged” with liberating Christianity.

      • Josh…

        If “faith alone” is rejected then what is the essential “mechanism” for salvation if not an actual “touching” of God? “Touching” is the most perfect and reasonable way to understand what is desired by the Catholic seeking salvation.

      • We are communing with Christ. He becomes a part of us. We are not just touching Him. And its about a formula for salvation per se. As has been explained to you several times, Holy Communion is not necessary for salvation in Catholic dogma.

      • OK, I am a little confused. Thordaddy seems to be saying catholic teaching is that the Eucharist is required ofr salvation, and this is the (or at least a significant) stumbling block between Protestants and Catholics. But some of you are saying the Church does not teach that the Eucharist is necessary for salvation. That sounds a bit odd to me. Particularly in light of:

        CCC 1407 The Eucharist is the heart and the summit of the Church’s life, for in it Christ associates his Church and all her members with his sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving offered once for all on the cross to his Father; by this sacrifice he pours out the graces of salvation on his Body which is the Church

        So it’s the heart and summit of the Church’s life, but not necessary for salvation??? Are you talking about some sort of salvation by desire, or outside of the ordinary means (e.g., those who, through no fault of their own, are unable to participate in the Eucharist), so that in a strict sense, it may not be necessary? I just find some of the statements here regarding the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist vis-a-vis salvation a bit odd.

      • It is possible to be saved outside the Church, but that doesn’t change the fact that the archetypal saved soul is still the Catholic saint who regularly availed himself of the Sacraments, cultivated a life of heroic virtue, hated and abhorred sin, detached himself from worldly goods, etc. So, yes, the Eucharist is both the source and summit of Christian life and not strictly necessary for salvation.

        If you have a problem with this formulation it is possible you are seeing “not strictly necessary for” as “irrelevant to,” which is where Protestants go wrong. It is not irrelevant. It is not strictly necessary for a man to have arms in order to be a man. It doesn’t follow that having arms is an extraneous addition to masculinity.

      • I mean it is hard to say the Eucharist is not the heart of Catholicism when the CCC and countless other Catholic sources seem to say it is. Where I disagree with Thordaddy is that the Eucharist does not require faith in Christ – on the contrary, it requires more faith in Christ than Protestants can apparently muster.

  7. Thordaddy,

    Your equating of Protestantism with liberalism is correct. Protestantism denies the notion of a revealed body of doctrine (handed down to and through the Catholic Church) and asserts that each man is free (hence liberal-ism) to interpret the scriptures in particular (the teachings of Christ in the Gospels) and make conclusions about doctrine himself (the idea that every man is his own Pope); he is essentially free to believe in God and then make his own conclusions about him based on his interpretation of scripture.

    The Protestant idea of salvation by faith alone, seems to me to entail belief (faith) in God and Jesus Christ as necessary for salvation, and not an intellectual assent to the whole body of revealed (Catholic) doctrine. From the Catholic point of view, one can have faith (an intellectual assent to Catholic doctrine) and never receive Communion and still potentially (we can never be certain) attain salvation. As has already been pointed out in the posts above, the Eucharist is a means of attaining salvivic grace (to fortify ourselves in the Christian battle for our souls); it is not a precondition for salvation.

    The so called “mechanism” for salvation is adherence to Catholic doctrine and all that that entails – teaching (truths about God, man, the world, &c.) and praxis (prayer, penance, &c.).

  8. Symbolism matters. A man agreeing that he is in sin and needs to leave his life of sin means nothing if there is not something visible and tangible to symbolize his newfound commitment to the Father and Christ. There has to be some sort of symbolic breaking of bad commitments (slave to sin) and symbolic forging of new commitments (slave to righteousness).

  9. This was really a very helpful series Bonald, especially the explanations touching on the changeableness of human will.

    Of course all aspects of the Catholic faith could not be touched upon in a single essay, but I wonder if it occurred to you in your essay to delve into the subject of the Catholic’s relationship to his superiors in the faith, that is, the bishops and the Pope, and what this relationship has to do with the essence of the Catholic faith. I suspect it may simply remain so for some time (perhaps a cross that we are all meant to bear), but knowing how to be faithful to leaders who, by all appearances, wish to eschew your desire to be faithful to them, is a matter of consternation for me and many. I suspect that some of the same foundational thinking that you expressed on other matters of the Catholic faith would help here also.

    I intuit, for instance, that our loyalty to the man Pope Francis, and not just the idea of a person upholding the Catholic faith (as difficult as this is with the behavior of Pope Francis), has something to do with acceptance of the Incarnation of Christ as an actual man. I don’t pooh-pooh the difficulty experienced by the sedevacantists, but I wonder what makes them think they would be faithful to a Benedict XV if they could not be faithful to Benedict XVI. However legitimate may be their grievances, it remains for them to prove that they can be faithful to a flesh-and-blood Vicar of Christ among them.

  10. Pingback: Lightning Round – 2014/04/30 | Free Northerner

  11. Correct me if I am wrong, but is not “salvation,” properly-speaking, something that only occurs at the end? And is not Faith not also a larger term including more than belief–one that also includes a loyalty which also implies love (or rather overlapping, inasmuch as love is considered distinct from faith and hope)? Finally, it has been stated that the sacraments are not strictly necessary or causal for salvation at the end. Yet, is not the sacrament of Baptism (even if of desire only) necessary?

    • Yes, from what I have read, our salvation will not be complete until the Final Judgement. Some have argued that it will not be completed even then – that rather it will then but fully have begun. For, how could we ever finish enjoying infinite beauty? How could we ever complete the contemplation of God?

      Faith is indeed more than intellectual assent to a set of propositions. But it involves that assent. Not that you need to be Aquinas, with everything satisfactorily nailed down, before you can have faith. Quite the opposite. Almost everyone is struggling to understand the faith he professes. How not? For, as pertinent to God, doctrine is infinitely deep (this, by the way, is how doctrine can develop as the Church learns more and more about what it means, its implications, applications and corollaries).

      The key thing is to profess. Yet to say the Credo, one must find it credible. So, some process of intellectual assent is involved, even if it is only an imperfect assent to authority. But the same could be said for the other aspects of faith. Who can say, e.g., that his charity is perfect? The fundamental commitment of faith is to the Lordship of Christ, in confidence that all the details, whether intellectual, moral or spiritual, will work out in due season, so that our faith is perfected.

      As to whether the sacrament of baptism is necessary for salvation, the answer is no. What is necessary to salvation are the things that the sacraments signify, are, and effect. Baptism signifies, and just is, and brings about death and rebirth in Christ Jesus. But baptism is not the only event that signifies, is, and brings about that rebirth. Martyrdom, for example, is the archetype of baptism. What matters is not the sacrament of baptism as such, precious though it is, but death and rebirth in Christ Jesus.

      Thus the Catechism on baptism:

      1281 Those who die for the faith, those who are catechumens, and all those who, without knowing of the Church but acting under the inspiration of grace, seek God sincerely and strive to fulfill his will, can be saved even if they have not been baptized.

  12. God may save whomever he wishes… — Kristor

    Sure… Yet, God’s “wishes” can neither be arbitrary nor redundant.


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