The Difference a Pope Makes

In keeping with the theme of confidence as a prerequisite to true tolerance, Joseph Bottum explores the way in which the authority represented by the papacy gives the Roman Catholic Church a theological coherence that has preserved its voice in modern society:

For a long while, Americans thought Catholicism was an un-American form of religion, but in our current situation, Catholicism alone appears able to synthesize faith and reason long enough, broadly enough, and deeply enough to avoid sectarianism. John Courtney Murray, the American Jesuit who influenced the Second Vatican Council’s decree on religious liberty, made essentially this argument, and the thirty years of debate over abortion has confirmed it. Catholic thought now defines the nonsecularist terms of American discourse—and does so, at its best, without threatening either the religious freedom or nonestablishment clauses of the First Amendment.

The Church’s structure is among the decisive factors in my decision to become — and remain — Catholic. The hierarchy, properly understood with distinctions between the prudential and the divinely imparted, is in keeping with the way in which human nature requires community-level disagreements to be resolved and foundational beliefs to be maintained as our understanding of the world evolves.
If there is a capital-T Truth, then something like the Catholic Church is essential toward its pursuit, not the least because the institution gives us confidence to meet and address disagreements.

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Rene
Rene
11 years ago

Catholicism “alone” appears able to synthesize faith and reason

msteven
msteven
11 years ago

I’ve certainly picked on you today – and I maintain confidence in my responses. As a recent convert to Christianity, this post interested me along with the linked article by Joseph Bottum. I may have to check out the FirstThings website more often now. I have not yet chosen a specific Christian denomination. I was baptized by an Episcopalian Priest (I can hear the snickering) but did not become confirmed. Much of my experience with Catholicism is through close friends. There seems to be extreme responses on both sides – as in intolerance towards it or intolerance against any criticism of it (i.e.: the Evangelical opposition to the Papacy). The article was interesting. But comments like “… and where else besides Catholicism can we look for intellectual and even political support of the still-pervasive public conviction that we stand under a historically manifest source of moral authority beyond ourselves?” bother me. Implying that no other Christian denomination or faith supports a conviction for morality based on divinity? In my view that’s the problem with today’s culture regardless of religion or political affiliation. We are right and all others are wrong – as the starting and ending point. No bridges, no doubt, no discourse and certainly no crossing lines allowed. For example, a pro-choice President working with a Pro-Life religious leader on a non-abortion related project was deemed unacceptable by both sides. Yes, an argument can be made that this is religious and/or principled conviction or commitment. But where I draw the line is how and where principles are applied. That is my beef with the communion issue for politicians based on how they vote on abortion issues. The article addressed my view that it is arbitrarily applied to abortion but not other issues like the death penalty, war or poverty.… Read more »

Justin Katz
11 years ago

msteven,
You misunderstand the sentence you quote and proceed to sermonize on issues from the entirely wrong perspective.
First the quotation:

… and where else besides Catholicism can we look for intellectual and even political support of the still-pervasive public conviction that we stand under a historically manifest source of moral authority beyond ourselves?

The point is not that only Catholics can be intellectuals. The fact that Joseph Bottum edits a wide-spanning journal on religion generally should have tipped you off to a difficulty in your understanding (although, of course, that doesn’t necessary that you’re to blame for the miscommunication).
The point is that the structure and attention to intellectual tradition of the Catholic Church is unique in creating a self-standing intellectual culture. Therefore, in the major cultural debates of the day, it has the capacity for the sustained “synthesis of faith and reason” to form and articulate arguments against secularization.
Second, your erroneous perspective: You’re approaching doctrine on an issue-by-issue basis as if they are all equivalent, because you’re approaching them as political issues. I’m too busy to go into detail, in this space, but there are thoroughly considered distinctions between all of the various issues, such as (for example) between abortion and the death penalty. There are differences in the standing of the victim. There are differences in the origin of the decision (mother/government). There are differences in how people can act. And there are differences in how the doctrine has developed within the Church.
You see the differences as “arbitrary” because you haven’t investigated Church thinking thoroughly enough to know the reasons.

Wilfred
Wilfred
11 years ago

I am sure that the Pope would disagree with most of the crap penned by the folks at Anchor Rising

OldTimeLefty
11 years ago

To Anchor Rising’s self appointed theologian:
You said, “The Church’s structure is among the decisive factors in my decision to become — and remain — Catholic.”
I say,” The Church’s structure is among the divisive factors in my decision to become — and remain – outside the Catholic faith.
Conclusion: Two divergent personal opinions of a subjective nature. Really, who cares and what is proven?
You said,” The hierarchy, properly understood with distinctions between the prudential and the divinely imparted, is in keeping with the way in which human nature requires community-level disagreements to be resolved and foundational beliefs to be maintained as our understanding of the world evolves.”
I say, “ You may think so, but tell that to Giordano Bruno for one, who for six years, between 1593 and 1600 lay in a Papal prison. Was he tortured? Whatever historical records there are never have been published by those authorities who have them. In 1600 Roman Catholic theologians convicted Bruno of heresy. After two years in the custody of the Inquisitor he was taken on February ninth to the palace of the Grand Inquisitor to hear his sentence.
Bruno answered the sentence of death by fire with the threatening: “Perhaps you, my judges, pronounce this sentence against me with greater fear than I receive it.” He was given eight more days to repent. He would not. He was taken to the stake and as he was dying a crucifix was presented to him, but he pushed it away with fierce scorn. I don’t find much divine inspiration in any of this history. Yet those who lit the torch did so with the spark of authoritative religious zealotry.
Yours in Christ,
OldtimeLefty

msteven
msteven
11 years ago

Justin, I was not aware of Joseph Bottum before this – it was my first time on FirstThings.com. Even re-reading the quote, I don’t think my understanding on the quote is unreasonable although it may not be how he meant it. I’ll admit I still don’t understand how the structure of the Catholic Church is ‘unique’ for sustaining synthesis of faith and reason and articulating arguments against secularization. Effective? OK. But unique implies that no other structure could sustain. That strikes me as self-serving as the criticizing of that structure as against Christian theology by some evangelicals. But by no means am I qualified to even discuss the structure or the theology behind it. I disagree with the other part. I still believe it is the Catholic Church that is approaching doctrine on an issue-by-issue basis. My problem isn’t about the specific issue; it is about the decision to deny a religious sacrament based on a vote. A vote. It makes no sense and is not consistent with any other doctrine relating to communion. This is also a recent doctrine. And there is no doubt that this doctrine is arbitrary. Why not deny communion to any Catholic who voted for Obama? It is undeniable that voting for Obama harms the pro-life movement in many ways not the least of which is Supreme Court nominees. Is that different based on the secrecy of the ballot? Why not deny communion to any Catholic politician who voted to confirm Sotomayer? I believe it is the Catholic Church in this case approaching this as a political issue. It is political because it based on a vote. A vote is not the same as an active endorsement. It’s a politician’s to job to vote on behalf of their constituents. By putting communion on the table,… Read more »

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