Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Catholic criterion
From Fr J. Steele, an RC Holy Cross Father (not to be confused with the Anglo-Papalist Fr Steel in Durham), via an e-mail conversation:
The difference between the Catholic magisterium and the implied magisteria of Protestant churches is the connection between ecclesiology and the development of doctrine. While Protestant denominations once shared among their members a sometimes fierce doctrinal security regarding their own interpretations of scripture, that is a bygone era. In the modern era, the theological relativism among denominations implied by a dedicated 20th Century ecumenism has given way to a theological relativism within each denominational body. The democratic governance structures which were meant to manage organizations have now been applied to deciding doctrine within each body in such a way as to be completely absurd. Doctrine and discipline have now been reduced to political horse races. “Gay marriage ahead by a nose, no wait, traditional marriage is coming on strong on the backstretch.” SNL, if it were ever interested in such material, could tear Protestant denominational doctrinal development to shreds. Fortunately for Christ, so few in the world are watching.

So, what is different about Catholic magisterium is precisely the opposite of what Protestants have accused us of for 5 centuries — the Magisterium is in fact remarkable in its stability and resistance to innovation. Rather than being the accretions of dark centuries, the Magisterium carries forward into a fickle world the very light of Christ’s Gospel. Rather than being confining in its power to bind the conscience, it is a freedom from the constant urge to redefine, manipulate, repackage, indeed regift Jesus himself.

So, the lack of a magisterium among Protestants which is a reflection of their lack of an ecclesiology of authority, condemns them to invent, to morph and to fragment. And, it is this invention and ultimate relativism which will be replayed century after century. Just wait. A century from now the new evangelicals, whatever they might be hawking on the street corners, will be virtually unable to recognize as their antecedents the likes of Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson — one wonders if the prosperity gospel will still stand. Meanwhile, Catholics will still be explaining the Fathers of the Church, the Catechism, the Saints and the Sacraments to those who will still call them the idolaters of a man-made religion.
For Rome of course this centres on the Pope’s office (not his person); for Orthodox and the other Eastern communions it’s decentralised and ‘charismatic’, diffused among the episcopate. In both cases it’s held up remarkably well whilst the Protestants have split again and again and again.

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