When “Less” is NOT “More”

Dec 20th, 2011 | By | Category: Blog Posts

A priest friend of mine recently remarked to me, “Whenever the Christian faith is allowed to be reduced, the Catholic faith will lose out to Protestantism, for the simple fact that Protestantism began as a reduction.” My friend went on to add, “Now some might still become Catholic, but not for the most important reason: the truth! Thus, when it is believed that all one needs to do in order to become a Christian is to come forward at the beckoning of a preacher and accept Jesus as one’s personal Lord and Savior, the playing field has not been leveled, it has been destroyed.”

The late Father Richard Neuhaus put it this way when comparing the faith of a Catholic compared to that of a Protestant, “For the Protestant, the act of faith is an act of faith in Christ, and only then, if at all, is it an act of faith in the Church. They are two acts of faith. For the Catholic, the act of faith in Christ and His Church is one act of faith” (Catholic Matters, p. 75). This leads the Protestant to finding a Church that agrees with one’s own interpretation of the Bible, reducing the faith to the choice of the consumer.

The Church, when compared to such a reduction, begins to look like a labyrinth, with all its rules and traditions, its so-called accretions from the perceived simplicity of the early Church. If the Church is allowed to be reduced to nothing more than a community of like-minded people, then the Catholic Church, to borrow from the former Cardinal Ratzinger, “has nothing to do with faith or is perceived as an obstacle to it: ‘faith, yes; Church, no. Christ, yes; Church, no’” (Dogma and Preaching, p. 21).

However, the Church, if it really is the Church established by Jesus Christ, cannot be reduced. Rather, the Church is always “More” not “Mere” as it regards the faith (See Father Dwight Longenecker, More Christianity). What does it mean to say the Church is always “More”?  Take, for example, Christian hope. To the Protestant this means we will go to heaven when we die, we will be resurrected on the last day and spend eternity with God. The Catholic believes at least that, but more than that. Our hope is that we will share in the very life of God, beholding God as He is, participating in the divine nature. Take grace as another example. Protestants typically conceive of grace as primarily medicinal and restorative. The Church says grace is fundamentally participation in the divine life. What of the Sacraments? Protestants, by and large, accept but two, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Church teaches that there are seven Sacraments. Protestants believe that Scripture alone is the sole rule of faith. The Church recognizes the Sacred Tradition of the Church alongside Sacred Scripture as the rule of faith. The list could go on but you get the point: the Protestant faith is always “less” to the Catholic faith’s “more”.

Why is it that Protestantism is always “less” to the Catholic Church’s “more”? Pope Benedict XVI, writing as Cardinal Ratzinger, writes of a four-fold standard that provides the Church with the necessary vitality to be “more”, that is, to be more alive and open to the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit. The four-fold standard of the Church’s preaching and teaching is: 1. The Scripture as the unique norm of the Church’s faith, 2. The Creeds of the Church as the expression of the Church’s faith, 3. The living Magisterium of the living Church as the rightful interpreter of the Church’s faith, and 4. The faith of the faithful in their particular context as the lived reality of the Church’s faith (Dogma and Preaching, p. 26-27).

The first of these standards is the Scripture’s unique importance in the Church because it alone is the sole book of the Church. The Scripture is the soul of sacred theology because sacred theology is dependent upon the Scripture (Dei Verbum, para. 24). Pope Benedict XVI explains that, “where theology is not essentially the interpretation of the Church’s Scripture, such a theology no longer has a foundation” (Verbum Domini, para. 35). Following St. Jerome, the Church maintains that “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ,” because the Scripture testifies of Christ and bears witness of Him, as Jesus Himself states (John 5:39).

The second standard is the Creeds of the Church. The creeds of the Church express the Church’s faith in a binding way (Dogma and Preaching, p. 26). The creeds of the Church provide the grounding in which to understand the depth of the Scriptural revelation. While it is true that one could arrive at very important insights and understanding apart from the Church by studying Sacred Scripture, “one cannot ultimately understand the Bible as opposed to the Church” (Dogma and Preaching, p. 38). The binding authority of the Church as expressed in the creeds provides the necessary and sure anchor that prevents the Scripture from becoming the play thing of the academy and the weapon of choice for the fundamentalist. The creeds alone prevent the Scripture from being reduced to a subjective authoritarianism, to paraphrase the late Father Louis Bouyer. Such subjective authoritarianism explains the various sects and denominations that exist, all of whom claim the Bible for their various beliefs and practices. Pope Pius XI says of these various Christian groups that, “A good number of them, for example, deny that the Church of Christ must be visible and apparent, at least to such a degree that it appears as one body of faithful, agreeing in one and the same doctrine under one teaching authority and government; but, on the contrary, they understand a visible Church as nothing else than a Federation, composed of various communities of Christians, even though they adhere to different doctrines, which may even be incompatible one with another” (Mortalium animos, para. 6).

The third standard is the living Magisterium of the living Church. The Church is a living reality with a structure given to her by her Divine Founder, Christ Himself. The Magisterium serves the Universal Church providing the genuine interpretation of the Church’s faith. If there was no living Magisterium of the Church, the Church would be relegated to the past and stuck in it, unable to assist the faithful by shedding light, divine light, on matters of great urgency. The Church’s faith is always continually facing new challenges and unforeseen questions. The living Magisterium, as the rightful interpreter of the faith, provides the faithful with guidance and direction needed to address such moral issues as embryonic stem cell research, end of life issues (especially as it regards what is ordinary or extraordinary care), in vitro fertilization, contraception and so much more. Those who have cut themselves off from the guidance and direction of the living Magisterium of the living Church lack this necessary guidance in making such decisions concerning such matters.

The fourth standard of the Church is the concrete faith of her communities. The Church, who is one and universal, is also many and particular.  The Church’s universal faith is brought to life in its particular manifestations in the world. If this were not so, the Church’s faith would be an abstraction, an idea and not a lived and practical reality, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Deus Caritas Est, para. 1). The core of the Church’s faith remains in tact but its various manifestations can be and are diverse. Various devotional practices might be more popular in one place than another. The Liturgy, though having an internal reality, as it is practiced and experienced, is diverse, with various rites all having a home within the one Church. Because the Church is the Church, she is able to provide a place for diversity while retaining her unity.

Lastly, it behooves me to close with another significant difference between the “less” of Protestantism and the “more” of Catholicism. This difference has to do with the Church as “Mother.” The Catholic understands the Church not as a something, but as a someone, “Mother.” Thus, as Mother, the Church can and does guide the faithful, not as a tyrant, but as a Mother, with maternal concern for the eternal destiny of her children. Like any Mother, the Church never tires of introducing others to her Son, Jesus Christ, the Lord of the world and its only Savior. This conception of the Church as Mother is rooted in the fact of Mary, the Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church. The Church, like Mary, listens to and receives the word of God, meditates and reflects upon that word, cherishing it within her heart, telling herself and others to do whatever Jesus says. As we close the season of Advent and prepare to enter the season of Christmas, let us remember that the eternal and infinite God humbled Himself to share in our humanity, in order that we, though temporal and finite, might be exalted to share in His divinity.

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  1. […] When “Less” is NOT “More”. Share this:FacebookEmailPrintMoreTumblrStumbleUponRedditLinkedInDiggTwitterLike this:LikeBe the […]

  2. The E.O. generally seem to say (based on my interactions with them) that where “Protestantism” subtracts from the inheritance of the Church on earth, Rome has added to it…

    +Nathan

  3. I appreciated the quote by Pope Pius XI which said, “A good number of them, for example, deny that the Church of Christ must be visible and apparent, at least to such a degree that it appears as one body of faithful, agreeing in one and the same doctrine under one teaching authority and government; but, on the contrary, they understand a visible Church as nothing else than a Federation, composed of various communities of Christians, even though they adhere to different doctrines, which may even be incompatible one with another” (Mortalium animos, para. 6).

    This is one of the reasons why I can no longer be Protestant. Protestants justify their lack of unity by rejecting the view that the visible church is the church of Christ and instead claim the real church is the number of the elect which may happen to be scattered throughout various ecclesiastical communions. If the protestant view is true, then there really isn’t much of a need to have a visible unity among the various communions, because after all the real church is invisible, so who cares if the visible church isn’t one. That is why Protestants tend to be the most sectarian and devisive people I know about, especially the Reformed. For example, when the whole Federal Vision controversy broke out, instead of the TR’s recognizing the FV guys as orthodox Christians the TR’s drop the H bomb at the 2003 Auburn conference. Instead of trying to heal the divisions between Protestants, or at least Presbyterians, they continued to created more divisions. I think this problem stems from the view that the real church is the invisible church so unity in the visible church isn’t important.

  4. Nathan,

    I’d be interested in seeing proof that Rome has added to the inheritance of the church on earth. No doubt the understanding of certain doctrines has developed over time, just as the Orthodox would acknowledge our understanding of the Trinity has developed over time, but that doesn’t necessarily follow that something is being added to the deposit of faith. So far, every Catholic doctrine I know about can be traced back to the early church at least in seed form.

  5. @Nathan at 1:07 am,

    The E.O. would say the filioque (although this is not as much of a stumbling block as it used to be), the Pope (although he is recognized as more than a first among equals, in the E.O. he should not have as much power as he does, for instance to depose bishops, which was one cause of the schism, or require his approval for appointment), Papal infallibility, the nature of original sin (although East and West spoke in different terms about ancestral sin from the earliest days without there being a schism), and a few other issues, such as having to agree to any council that the E.O. were not invited to (although this can be worked through, the same way the several Oriental Orthodox churches have become united with either Catholic or the Eastern Orthodox Church).

    Overall, there is only one issue that needs to be resolved (besides estrangement and distrust) is the authority of the Pope. If the Pope is as Catholics believe, then all other issues are resolved in favour of Catholics and the E.O need to become Catholic. The problem becomes a practical problem of how to integrate the E.O. and now to transition into this new structure. If he is not, then the Catholic Church would be only a part of the Church then every council after the schism was a local council not a council of the Church universal. They might be all true, but only another council could resolve that.

  6. WRT less is not more, to me there is a simple apologetic that goes against it.

    How much does Jesus want for and from you? All or “just enough to squeak by”?

    The gospels and the old testament say clearly, he wants it all.

    Assuming Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot secretly repented on their death beds as the thief on the cross did and are now in heaven, will they still be same same despicable people that they were on earth?

    The Bible is also clear on this, no, nothing impure can enter heaven. God wants to rip out their old stone heart and give them a heart of flesh. Whether it happens in “a twinkling of an eye” or over time is less important than to recognize that God is a consuming fire and he wants nothing less than everything for and from us.

    IMO, for the most part, Protestants of the “less is more school” see themselves as scraping the barnacles off the the Barque of Peter which are a “a distraction to the simple message of Jesus and might thus endanger your salvation”.

    Personally, I do agree that Christianity is so simple that a child or even baby can be Christian, but the formula of the “personal profession of faith” ironically is too complicated to include most Christian children. Given that Christ wanted us to become like children and the Bible repeatedly calls us to be like a weaning child, this “simple message” never made sense to me.

    If all Jesus did was forgive sins and give us a message, it also never made sense that Jesus asked us to spread the Gospel using such inefficient means as word of mouth. It would seem that God could have just dropped Bibles in everyone’s lap, or even better yet, embed the gospel in everyone’s brain so we could freely accept or reject him and none who would accept him would be lost.The Incarnation would also seem kind of pointless. If all he came was to give us a message and forgive sins, he didn’t have to become Incarnate. He could have “paid the price for us” in any number of ways and just tell us that he did. The whole history of Jewish prophets didn’t need to happen either for this reason.

    So whatever Jesus accomplished must be so simple that a child or the sinner with “a mustard seed of faith” could be Christian, and so complex and profound that “all this stuff” was necessary, including these “symbolic ordinances” Jesus instituted. The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox understanding of the faith does have an understanding that encompasses both extremes, though it takes the volume of the writings of all the saints to explain how two seeming contradictions actually are both true and both glorify God.

  7. I don’t know where Tom is getting the idea that “Take, for example, Christian hope. To the Protestant this means we will go to heaven when we die, we will be resurrected on the last day and spend eternity with God. The Catholic believes at least that, but more than that. Our hope is that we will share in the very life of God, beholding God as He is, participating in the divine nature.”
    The Protestant that knows the Scripture would also concur that we are partakers of the divine nature (2 peter 1:4), not condemned (Rom 8:1)blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ, holy, blameless, predestined as sons, redeemed, forgiven, and sealed in the HS (Eph 1:3-14) made alive in Christ (Eph 2:5) and have had all our sins forgiven and taken out of the way (Col 2:13-14).
    This far surpasses any of the so called “fullness of the truth” that Catholics claim in their church.

  8. Henry writes: The Protestant that knows the Scripture would also concur that we are partakers of the divine nature …

    I agree – the Protestant that knows the Scripture would also concur that Christians in a state of grace are partaking in the divine nature of God – the inner life of the Trinity – a life of holy and divine love.

    Tom Riello writes: Take grace as another example. Protestants typically conceive of grace as primarily medicinal and restorative. The Church says grace is fundamentally participation in the divine life.

    Henry, do you believe that “grace is fundamentally participation in the divine life”?

    Do you believe that a “faith” that lacks divine love in its actualization is a faith that is dead, a faith that has no power to save one from eternal damnation?

  9. Mateo,
    The only faith that saves is a faith the believes that Jesus died for our sins and rose again. See Romans 10:9-10, I Cor 15:1-4, Eph 2:8-9. It is a work of the HS that makes it possible for a man who is unsaved to believe this. This is the only way to be saved from damnation.

  10. Henry writes: The only faith that saves is a faith the believes that Jesus died for our sins and rose again.

    If I merely give my intellectual assent to the proposition that Jesus died for my sins and rose again, do I have saving faith? Not necessarily. .

    Must I give my intellectual assent to the dogma of the faith that “Jesus died for my sins and rose again”? Yes, I must do that if I am to be saved. But mere intellectual assent to this dogma of the Christian faith is not sufficient to save me, because “faith without love” is a dead faith that has no power to save.

    But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
    James 1:22

    What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? James 2:14

    If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
    1Cor 13:1-2

    So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But some one will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren? … For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead. James 2:17-20 & 26

    Henry writes: … Jesus died for our sins and rose again. See Romans 10:9-10, I Cor 15:1-4, Eph 2:8-9. It is a work of the HS that makes it possible for a man who is unsaved to believe this.

    I agree with that. It is also a work of the Holy Spirit that makes saving faith something other than mere intellectual assent to Christian dogma.

  11. I agree. It is necessary to know certain facts about ourselves and Christ and to believe in Christ not only with our minds but our hearts. This kind of belief cannot be faked.
    James is speaking of the kind of faith that shows itself in action by doing good. These actions in and of themselves have no power to save or add to salvation. They only show that salvation has taken place.

  12. @Henry:

    James is speaking of the kind of faith that shows itself in action by doing good. These actions in and of themselves have no power to save or add to salvation. They only show that salvation has taken place.

    Hmm… Well, perhaps – but that’s not what James actually says:

    James 2:20-24:

    But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

    jj

  13. John- James is not saying you must do works to be saved. What do you think it means to be “justified by works”?

  14. Henry writes: I agree. It is necessary to know certain facts about ourselves and Christ and to believe in Christ not only with our minds but our hearts.

    Right. A repentant Christian believes in his heart and mind that Jesus died on the cross for his sins. But why did Jesus do this for me? Jesus died on the cross for me so that I, a man born as a slave to sin, could be set free from that slavery. My salvation is my freedom from the bondage to sin. I have been freed from one master, sin, so that I can have a new master – the Lord.

    …. no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

    If Jesus is truly my Lord, then I have to do what the Lord tells me to do, I can’t just say he is my Lord and not do the work that he commands me to do:

    “Why do you call me `Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” Luke 6:46

    A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. John 13:24

    Henry, where do you stand in the “Lordship Salvation Controversy”? (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lordship_salvation_controversy )

    Do you believe in Lordship salvation, or non-Lordship salvation?

  15. @Henry:

    John- James is not saying you must do works to be saved. What do you think it means to be “justified by works”?

    Isn’t he? I dunno, that’s what it seems like to me. Lest you should suppose me ‘indoctrinated’ by Catholic teaching, my history is:
    – age 0-27, no thought of God at all
    – age 27-30, converted, gradually going through evangelical to Baptist to Reformed
    – age 30-50, Reformed, gradually realising that the Scriptures teach what I finally came to understand was Catholic doctrine – including that you must do works to be saved, on the basis not only of James’s letter, but those of St Paul and the sayings of Jesus and … well, pretty much the whole Bible
    – age 51, became a Catholic in faith
    – age 53, received into the Church with great joy

    (now age 69, in case you want to know :-))

    Away from the computer from now until Tuesday (it is Friday here in New Zealand) – off for a lovely long week-end up on the Hokianga for the commemorative Mass celebrated every year the second Sunday of January in memory of the first Mass celebrated in New Zealand in that place on 13 January 1838. Talk to you next week!

    jj

  16. Mateo– I believe in Lordship salvation. Jesus is Lord and Savior. He is Lord as He is Savior.

  17. JTJ #15,

    Oh my! You hyperlinked us into another reality. So beautiful. Please do remember all of us in the valley of tears when you are at Mass at the summit of God’s handiwork.

    Peace

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