What is the Catholic Faith Like?

Sep 21st, 2009 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Whatever the Catholic faith is, it must be an indulgence in Christianity on all points of contact. For it would not have been enough for Catholicism to say “Gnosticism is a heresy;” she felt it necessary to permeate her entire doctrinal manifesto with Incarnational theology. And when Nestorius said Christ was two persons it was not enough to answer “No He’s One;” Catholicism indulged in the two natures of Christ by saying “In fact, it is right to call Mary the Mother of God.”

When the modernist asked of Catholicism, “is it permissible to lie with your mouth?” Catholicism didn’t just answer “No” she said, “Neither may you lie with the rest of your body by using contraception.”

Catholicism rings true because of her paradoxes. She indulges, yet she is frugal; that is, she is both the most ascetic and the most indulgent, or put another way, she laughs, yet her heart is heavy. She is authoritative, yet she is a servant. She is both more unified and diverse than her other Christian brethren. Her theology is complex enough to frustrate the greatest minds and simple enough to be understood by a child. She is ornate with heavenly beauty and homely to look at. At her altar rail, kings and peasants kneel side by side in reverence to the risen Christ. She is more hated than any other Christian community and also more loved. Her doctrines cause more scandal and more joy than any other faith. She has more fire than the charismatics, more miracles than the faith healers, more mystics than the oriental religions, and more alcohol than the secularists, yet she is more sober than any of them. Her doctrine is stricter than the fundamentalists and more forgiving than the liberals.

For those outside her only pay lip service to what she wallows in. They say they believe in a certain priesthood too – we have priests! They say they believe in the Real Presence too – we worship the Eucharist! They say they believe in the communion of saints – we ask them to pray for us! They say they believe in Church authority too – we submit to the See of Peter!

If this isn’t the fullness of Catholic Christianity, then how could we believe a watered down version of it is? On the contrary, if this isn’t the fullness of the Christian faith, I’d dare say we need to find something which pays even more reverence to the Eucharist, something which has an even greater esteem for the Scriptures, something which honors Mary even more, that is all to say: something even more Catholic. But there is no such thing.

What is the Catholic Church like? It’s like coming across a pool of cold water on a hot day. The water is so cold that trying to tip-toe your way in just won’t work. Some decide to cool their feet by wading in the shallow end. Catholicism is like doing a cannonball in the middle of the pool from a running start and finding her to satisfy you from head to toe.

On CTC, we’ve talked about what the Catholic faith isn’t.  This is what the Catholic faith is. This is Christianity in the fullest sense of the word.

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  1. wallowing in the fullness..cool

  2. This sounds like Chesterton. Are you channeling Gilbert?

  3. JJS – I’m honored at the association. I love this quote from Orthodoxy:

    As we have taken the circle as the symbol of reason and madness, we may very well take the cross as the symbol at once of mystery and of health. Buddhism is centripetal, but Christianity is centrifugal: it breaks out. For the circle is perfect and infinite in its nature; but it is fixed for ever in its size; it can never be larger or smaller. But the cross, though it has at its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms for ever without altering its shape. Because it has a paradox in its centre it can grow without changing. The circle returns upon itself and is bound. The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travellers.

    I actually meant to include this or one of his quotes like this in the post. My short term memory is rapidly failing and I’m not old enough for that to happen yet! But yes, Chesterton, generally speaking, was an inspiration for this post.

  4. Tim,

    Beautiful and yes, very much Chesterton! He must be smiling :-)
    True faith is jumping in the cold pool and believing that it will always remain so because we have the promise of Our Lord – no matter who comes and who goes – the gates of hell will NOT prevail against her.

    She is so refreshing after so much time spent in shallow and tepid water!

  5. Tim,

    I can’t but think that what you’ve written, while certainly appealing on one level, is a tad self-congratulatory. I mean, I could write about Presbyterianism and simply highlight its “Presbyterianness” as an argument for why Presbyterianism is so awesome. After all, no other church holds to the Westminster Confession like we do, so therefore we’re better.

    Of course, your point may be simply to describe Catholicism and not argue for it, which is fine. I’m just saying, is all….

  6. Tim,

    A much as I hate to agree with JJS, I too really didn’t see the point of the post other than to say how awesome Catholicism is supposedly.

    Perhaps if you accentuated the fact that all of the ecumenical councils alluded to at the beginning were themselves actually Catholic, then the point would’ve comparatively been more striking.

  7. JJS,

    Some might say that the best argument for Catholicism is its description. My friend Tim has described it to a T.

    As for Presbyterianism, its best apology is a dry-fly and four-count rhythm. (Also, note the devastating attack upon the Episcopalian religion.)

  8. Jason,

    “I mean, I could write about Presbyterianism and simply highlight its “Presbyterianness” as an argument for why Presbyterianism is so awesome.”

    I disagree with your point. Catholicism based upon some of the points that Tim highlighted”For those outside her only pay lip service to what she wallows in. They say they believe in a certain priesthood too – we have priests! They say they believe in the Real Presence too – we worship the Eucharist! They say they believe in the communion of saints – we ask them to pray for us! They say they believe in Church authority too – we submit to the See of Peter!”…. are actually condemned by others because of her Catholicism (these points) more often then not, and sometimes they are the very subjects that lead people away rather towards the Catholic Church.

    So for your point to apply in regards to Catholicism as ‘awesome’ would not be an accurate statement in my opinion. In some circles Tim could very well be running people off with his post affirming those things which they already disagree with.

  9. Roma,

    It would seem to me that the point of Tim’s post is the beauty of Catholicism. The fact that it cannot be backed into a corner. The fact that in many cases it really is “both/and”. Tim clearly was not making an apologetical argument. Tim was just stating the beauty that is the Church. Sometimes when you speak of one you love you just want to say how much you love her and why and not give some lengthy defense as to why you love her. I know you agree, the Church is beautiful because her Lord is beautiful!

  10. Andrew, Renee, Tom R – I think you guys get just where I’m coming from!

    But JJS, I would like to see that post on Presbyterianism’s greatness. I’m curious as to what it would look like. I’m wondering what Presbyterianism has that no one else does, and what it is, specifically, that Presbyterianism embraces fully to which others only pay lip service. A lot of great things can be said of Presbyterianism, I won’t deny it for a second. But I have to admit my skepticism as to whether something like this could be written of the Presbyterian church with a straight face.

    Then again, my face wasn’t straight when I wrote this (some time ago). I was smiling.

  11. Tim,

    I just may take you up on that challenge (and I’ll let you know once it’s posted).



  12. Tim, time to upgrade your servers, seems like the current one you’re on can’t handle the amount of traffice y’all are starting to get.

  13. Tap,

    I agree that something is causing us to move slowly.

  14. Tim,

    Incredible article. It reminded me of several of Chesterton’s chapters from Orthodoxy, especiallty when he evaluates the contradictory accusations which have been leveled at the Catholic Church and when he speaks of the thrill of Orthodoxy as a balancing act between truths that seem impossible to reconcile.

    Reading this also reminds me of John Piper’s term, “Christian hedonism”, which I am sure you are familiar with. I personally love the shock value of the term as it reminds us of the fullness of new life in Christ. How do you feel about the term? Would you call the Catholic Church the true “paradise resort” for the Christian hedonist?

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy Tate

  15. Tim – I believe I read this at your personal blog some time back. Excellent and beautiful.

    I know this sounds smug and “exclusive”, but I don’t intend to come across that way, however I will say that when I was a Presbyterian, I would not have “gotten” this. You can’t “get” this if you are not Catholic.

  16. Kevin,

    I would disagree. I’m still not Catholic and I get this and it makes me all the more excited to become Catholic. I would suggest to you that articles like this are in fact the most effective sort of apologetics.
    I’ve had seminary Professors bash their own denomination. A Catholic would never do such a thing. Non-Catholics need to read and see Catholics who are in love with Jesus and in love with their Church. This article does just that.

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  17. Kevin, thanks for the comments and you are correct – this is a re-post of something I did a while back.

    Jeremy – I can see what you’re saying but also remember that you’re already facing Rome, as it were. I think Kevin’s point would apply to those who are comfortable where they are and not interested in the Tiber river swim.

    There would have been a time in my life where I would have been indifferent to this message at best, and maybe irritated at it. That was a long time ago, but I think there’s a certain sense in which until you’re Catholic, in the sense of having your heart in the One Holy Catholic & Apostolic Church, (and not necessarily in the sense of being in full communion), that one cannot fully “get” this idea. It’s like loving my literal mother. I can syllogize all day long and tell people what’s so great about her, but no one really “gets” that love like I do except my brothers and sisters. I think the reason you “get” this, is because you already love the Church.

    Still I don’t say this to marginalize your point because it’s valid. There is something about seeing a Christian love the Church that should be inspiring. Protestants do not love the Church and cannot nor can they talk about it. They can talk about having a visible Church, but watch how quickly they’ll be ostracized if they dare say they love her. Once you start talking about loving the Church, she becomes an identifiable body and is no longer the abstract, far from actually visible, elusive, “visible Church” of the Westminster confession.

  18. Tim,

    I have to ‘second’ your last paragraph in #18. Protestantism does not have a visible catholic Church, and it cannot love what it does not have. So this expresses itself in one of two ways. Either the denomination itself is treated as the visible Catholic Church (and through this denominationalism one treats one’s own denomination like one’s own college football team, an inviolable sacred institution, which demands loyalty to the death, and evokes fierce pride and commitment/devotion, about which reasoning objectively and critically is virtually impossible), or one goes in the opposite direction, and there is general apathy about the visible catholic Church, or even denominations, and church is down-played as something unimportant compared to Jesus (i.e. love Jesus, don’t love the Church). For an example of the latter, see comments 66 and 67 in this thread.

    Only when one has a visible catholic Church, and has overcome the either/or gnosticism that underlies anti-sacramentalism, can one see how loving Christ and loving the visible catholic Church (i.e. the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church) are not only not mutually exclusive, but in fact mutually related. We love Christ tangibly by loving His Body (the Church). It is true, of course, that every individual is made in His image, and that insofar as we do it unto the least of these, we do it unto Him. But the Church is more than the image of God; the Church is the Body of Christ. So, a fortiori, if we do it unto the Church, we do it unto Him. But without a visible catholic Church, that entire dimension of loving Christ is nullified.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  19. Jeremy – I missed your comment on Piper’s term, “Christian hedonism.” I remember that book “Desiring God.” I read some of it back when I was still PCA. I think the shock value can be useful; heck sometimes we need it. An encounter with God is always shocking, as Dr. Kreeft says. He’s got a great lecture on that up at his site BTW.

    But yes, we have to seek happiness. We’re in the pickle of not being able to settle for less than infinite happiness and by our nature not being able to attain it. We cannot attain that happiness for which we were created by our natural powers. Even the angels couldn’t do that. That’s why we need grace. There’s a great line in Chesterton’s biography of Aquinas that talks about an encounter St. Thomas had with God wherein God asked him “what do you want” and Aquinas replied “nothing but Thee.” GK compares it to the Eastern mystic who answers the same question with “I want nothing” meaning either the great blissful nothing or the suppression of all desire to the point of contentment. Aquinas is answering something far different. His answer isn’t “nothing,” his answer is “everything.” We cannot be satisfied without perfect happiness (blessedness) which is only possible through the Beatific Vision.

    Christianity doesn’t teach that we suppress all desire absolutely, but that we fulfill all our desires perfectly through God. This may mean temporary restraint and discipline, but it leads to eternal happiness. (It’s so much easier to write about it than to do it.)

    Fitting in nicely with the paradoxes above, the Catholic Church also illustrates this point well in that it is, as my friend Tom Riello recently reminded me, the Church of “feasting and fasting.” And too often, like my other friend, whose name shall remain anonymous, “I’m more of a feaster than a faster.”

    Anyway, I like the term and its “shock value.”

  20. I have to add my two cents about this love for the Church. I can say that since coming back into the Church and, like you Jeremy, as I was coming back into the Church, I absolutely fell in love with her. I never spoke this way as a Presbyterian and those I was around never did either. And I think it is because, as Tim and Bryan pointed out, there really is no visible Church to love. I think love for the Church is manifested not so much in loving the Church when things are going well but even when things are not going so well. Take St. Padre Pio, today’s feast day, who endured insults and sanction from amongst his superiors and he suffered those blows for love of the Church. When I was PCA would I have suffered not only for her, but even from her? I don’t think so, but maybe that is me. But, I pray the grace, that if I ever have to suffer from the Church I would still love her and cherish her. Being Catholic is like being married, it is the gift of self to the other, regardless of what you may get back in return. This is why Benedict says so often, “the Church does not need more reformers, she needs more saints and the more saints we have the more we shall be more authentically reformed.” To be Catholic! What joy. It’s life and life to the full, for she has Christ, for Christ’s Church is there He is!

  21. Bryan
    Was the video you posted of Carthusians?

  22. drollord,

    Yes it is. This is a clip from the film Into Great Silence, which I highly recommend. Many people will not understand the film, and will find it boring. But the film is about eternal life. It is about the life lived in contemplative prayer and hope of the world to come. It is not the sort of film you watch while drinking beer and eating popcorn. For this one, you turn your phone off, and watch it in silence and without food or drink, and without any interruption, and then you remain in silence afterward, reflecting, meditating, not wishing to speak any idle word.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  23. “It is not the sort of film you watch while drinking beer…”
    Or Chartreuse.

  24. On the contrary, I think one can “get” this if one is not Catholic. It is a lovely piece, and full of the joy of it’s author. As a non-Roman Catholic I DO, I think, get it, in as much as I feel the antiquity, the connection, and the draw of history and of those who down through have embraced the same Christ. The jump into cool waters beckons. The idea of relief from the controversies outside of that pool draws the heart. Still, and I think importantly, my mind is engaged. I love what you love, but not all that you love. I yearn for that same cool water in the context of biblical truth. Not to say intellectual knowledge, but spiritual. Not just form, not just substance, but each perfectly set in the greater, that is to say in our Lord and Redeemer as He has been revealed to us in scripture. For when we see Him, we see. When we taste Him, we taste. When we drink Him, it is cool water indeed. I think perhaps it is not in denomination but in truth. Would that the whole body might be refreshed with the glorious revelation of hope in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ our Lord and that in harmony she be preserved to his coming again. Let us persevere in the faith once delivered. Let us love Him who first loved us and who while we were yet sinners died for us. Let us jump cannonball-style into that assurance we have in what Christ has done on our behalf.

  25. BVBM, thanks for stopping by and for the kind words.

  26. Tim, I loved this when you first posted it, and I loved it again today when Michael’s quote sent me looking again. Thank you for this beautiful expression of what it means to be a member of the Church.

  27. Thank you Annette!

  28. Haven’t been around in a while, boys. I was, however, thinking about you guys in the shower today (can’t explain that, sorry). This post caught my eye. I was a wonderfully self-congratulatory and a conveniently narrow look at the Roman communion. It’s the kind of thing that could be written by any sect.

    Tim wrote: “For those outside her only pay lip service to what she wallows in. They say they believe in a certain priesthood too – we have priests! They say they believe in the Real Presence too – we worship the Eucharist! They say they believe in the communion of saints – we ask them to pray for us! They say they believe in Church authority too – we submit to the See of Peter!”

    We say: We believe in the great and High Priest; in him, all believers are kings and priests; we have the Mediator in the New Covenant, we don’t need the tyranny of men. We believe in the Real Presence, but we hold to Calcedonian Christology, so we know that the physical flesh and blood of Christ are in heaven, not ubiquitously down on earth – we don’t have to contort Aristotle to feed upon Christ; further, we don’t make idols out of bread and wine; we feed on the body and blood of Christ by faith, not by sight. We believe in the communion of saints – we commune with them in Christ and worship the Lamb with them – we don’t deify them to the point where they can be omnipresent, hearing prayers all around the world at once from thousands or millions of people. We believe in Church authority, but we don’t pretend that a mere man speaks for God, but that God speaks for himself in the Scripture, which is *ministered* (not invented) by his Church, to which we submit.

    Biblical Christianity has everything good that Popish perversions still retain, plus it retains all the truth that Romanism leaves out and dismisses.

  29. Tim,

    Please check out our posting guidelines before commenting. Words like ‘popish’ aren’t in accordance with Christian charity.

    Also, if you want to make a serious attempt out out-doing what I said about the Catholic Church, you should try to write something about how your church is even more beautiful. But you spoke more about the Catholic Church in your rebuttal than your own. Also, the bitterness in your tone hurts your case just like it hurt John Calvin in his institutes. Finally, the straw men don’t help either.

  30. Tim Prussic,

    I find it interesting, if you are Reformed, that you would say of Catholics, “a mere man speaks for God”, considering that the 2nd Helvetic Confession says, “THE PREACHING OF THE WORD OF GOD IS THE WORD OF GOD. Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful.” I mean here we have an astounding statement, the sermon is, as Dr. Mike Horton has said, is the word of God preached by a mere man. Also, was not Paul or Peter or even your preacher a mere man, and did they not and do speak for God? Why deny to the Bishop of Rome something that even the Reformed tradition claims for itself?

    Why are Catholics denied the privilege to invoke the angels and the saints yet, if one sings the doxology on Sunday morning they are not denied such a privilege? “Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts.”

    As a Catholic, by my baptism, I am a priest of God and share in His priestly work and am a member of His royal priesthood.

    In fairness to you Tim P. I understand from the outside why the Catholic Church looks to you so unattractive, you see Her not with the eyes of faith and love, but as an obstacle, an impediment to faith. But it is in that Church and that Church alone that all the heresies that sought to tear the Church asunder have been defeated, it is to that Church that the faith has held strong lo these many years, and it is to that Church that my faith and the faith of countless others is nourished and strengthened as is said in every Liturgy, “look not upon our sins but on the faith of your Church.” It is Christ’s Church and He loves Her and He will love Her to the end and those who rest in Her can be assured that they have God for Father for they have taken this beautiful Church as Mother.

    As Tim T. wrote

  31. Tim P.,

    We haven’t met yet – I’m Benjamin and I’m one of the Protestants that hangs around here. Good
    to meet you. :-) I’ll be honest with you, brother: I was offended by what you wrote, and I’m not even Roman Catholic. That sure doesn’t make what you said wrong, but it sure doesn’t seem appropriate for dealing with..well, anyone. If ya think Roman Catholics are Christians, surely speaking more respectfully than you did would be appropriate. And even if you think Roman Catholics aren’t Christians, well…pretty sure we still have a Christian obligation to be gracious anyways.
    But, to be fair, the internet makes everything we say sound worse (or at least more harsh) than we intended it to. Fortunately the folks that run this site are all manner of understanding, so if you ever have something to share, please don’t hesitate to come back and give us your thoughts. :-) Maybe before you do, though, just give your post a second read-through to make sure it’s tone doesn’t sound worse than you mean it to before you hit that “submit comment” button. Look forward to any future interactions we might have… =)


  32. Tim, sorry for breaking the rule. Honestly, I didn’t mean to offend in *that* way. Please forgive me. My point wasn’t to be more beautiful… don’t know that I’m able. My point was simply to respond in kind. Thus, I don’t think my post should be taken any more seriously than the original one. My post, like the original, does nothing but draw guffaws from opposition and cheers from adherents.

    To Tom: *ministering* the written Word of God via preaching is one thing. Speaking infallibly ex cathedra is quite something else. Calling all the creation to praise God (praise him above ye heavenly hosts) is one thing, invoking them in prayer is quite something else. It’s silly even to bring those things up. I don’t think of the Church as an impediment or obstacle, but as a loving mother. I do, however, think the traditions of men can be impediments and obstacles, especially when they supplant what God *actually* says:

    Mk 7:6-9 – And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

    “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

    You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!”

  33. Tim,
    Any ball park date on when your next featured article, might appear?


  34. This recent one has taken much longer than anticipated. Sorry for the delay.. Give us one or two days. I think. :-) I hope it will be worth the wait.

  35. […] Filed under: Church,Currents — Thomas @ 9:07 am At Called to Communion, Tim Troutman writes: . . . Catholicism rings true because of her paradoxes. She indulges, yet she is frugal; that is, […]

  36. Tim p:

    You said, “I didn’t mean to offend in *that* way. ”

    Which way did you mean to offend? ;-)

    My point was simply to respond in kind.

    But you didn’t respond “in kind.” Everything I said in the article was true; most of what you said was false (and again, you talked more about us than yourself – which is the opposite of what I did). For example, you said that Catholics “deify saints” to the point where they’re “omnipresent.” I understand how you think this follows given our prayers to saints, but it doesn’t. You do not understand the doctrine or how it is possible to pray to saints in heaven. If you want to learn, just ask. But it’s best not to go making accusations about things you don’t understand.

    Calling all the creation to praise God (praise him above ye heavenly hosts) is one thing, invoking them in prayer is quite something else. It’s silly even to bring those things up.

    You say it’s silly to bring those up, but you don’t explain why. If you have an argument, let’s hear it. Otherwise, it seems pretty obvious to me that this isn’t a silly point and you’ve just made a baseless assertion.

    You then quote Matt 7:6-9 against the Catholic Church but you don’t show how it applies at all. These sorts of tactics aren’t conducive to genuine dialogue formed by Christian charity.

    Brother, we understand you think the Catholic Church is heretical. At one time, all of us did too. Tom R, who you’re talking to, was once an ordained minister in the PCA. Do you think he once thought some of these things? I bet he did. If you want to just bash the Church, this probably isn’t the right place for you. If you want to mutually pursue the truth in Christian charity, then you have come to the right place. If your denomination is the true Church and ours is false, then that should be demonstrable.

  37. Tim P,

    As Tim T. said I once thought those same things too. I do think the great Archbishop Sheen said it so well, “There are not more than 100 people in the world who truly hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they perceive to be the Catholic Church. ….As a matter of fact, if we Catholics believed all of the untruths and lies which were said against the Church, we probably would hate the Church a thousand times more than they do.”

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