This is the seventh in a ten part guest series by Beth Turner, the wife of Barrett Turner. Beth and Barrett were received into full communion at Easter 2010 and live in Virginia with their four children. Beth’s story of her journey into the Catholic Church can be found at Saved by Love: A Seminary Wife’s Journey. (Continue Reading…)
To Enter the Sanctuary by the Blood of Jesus: A Literal Account of Becoming Catholic
What follows is the story of how I became a Catholic, as best as I can remember it. I have called this a “literal account” in order to distinguish it from a more ambiguous and allusive telling of the tale that was offered here several years ago as “The Last Road.” In neither version do I say anything about many of the specific practices and doctrines that Protestants tend to find particularly objectionable. Instead, I have focused on describing landscape. This reflects the nature of the development of my own theological convictions, which was less a matter of piecemeal deduction than of an entire picture slowly coming into resolution, in which process the various objects became distinctly intelligible. Most of this narrative, therefore, is devoted to describing the contours of the biblical, theological, liturgical, ecclesiological, and soteriological considerations that would lead me to Catholicism. I will also briefly recount the final steps that I took towards and then into the Catholic Church, including the process of navigating through some of the confusing and troubling aspects of her recent history. Continue Reading…
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October 20, 2014
October 19, 2014
The recent conclusion of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family has generated headline media discussion implying that the Catholic Church reached a near-watershed moment in supposedly considering revising traditional Catholic teaching on homosexuality. Echoing many American political leaders, commentators have asked whether the Church will finally get on the “right side of history”? The synod also notably coincides with the publishing of a new book on Catholicism and homosexuality by popular blogger and writer Eve Tushnet, providing us further impetus to revisit and reflect on Catholic doctrine.
For those unfamiliar with Ms. Tushnet, whose writing has been featured in The American Conservative, First Things, and The Atlantic, among others, such a conversation cannot help but be both entertaining and thought-provoking. Who wouldn’t want to know more about a Jewish atheist homosexual from Washington D.C. who decides to convert Catholicism and live the chaste life? Such a conversion is quite a counter-cultural decision in a place that seems to be propelling cultural sentiments on this very topic. Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith does not disappoint as Ms. Tushnet tells her story with humor, but more importantly an honesty and vulnerability that is striking and commendable. The first half of her book provides not only a depiction of her “coming out” and later conversion, but also the deep dregs of alcoholism which defined a large chunk of time after she entered the Catholic faith. The latter half of the book is more of a guide to various ways gay persons who wish to be faithful to the Catholic Church can find deep and fulfilling senses of community and vocation in their new home. Although certainly important, the second half is thus less relevant to Called to Communion’s goal of furthering Catholic-Protestant ecumenical dialogue. This post will consider Ms. Tushnet’s reflections on Church teaching and tradition on homosexuality, and distill what in Ms. Tushnet’s narrative speaks to the ecumenical exchange. (Continue Reading…)
October 18, 2014
Relationship with Christ, Relationship with Mary (Leo, the Rosary, and Christian Unity, part 6 of 10)
This is the sixth in a ten part guest series by Beth Turner, the wife of Barrett Turner. Beth and Barrett were received into full communion at Easter 2010 and live in Virginia with their four children. Beth’s story of her journey into the Catholic Church can be found at Saved by Love: A Seminary Wife’s Journey. (Continue Reading…)
October 15, 2014
This is the fifth in a ten part guest series by Beth Turner, the wife of Barrett Turner. Beth and Barrett were received into full communion at Easter 2010 and live in Virginia with their four children. Beth’s story of her journey into the Catholic Church can be found at Saved by Love: A Seminary Wife’s Journey. (Continue Reading…)
October 13, 2014
This is the fourth in a ten part guest series by Beth Turner, the wife of Barrett Turner. Beth and Barrett were received into full communion at Easter 2010 and live in Virginia with their four children. Beth’s story of her journey into the Catholic Church can be found at Saved by Love: A Seminary Wife’s Journey. (Continue Reading…)
October 11, 2014
This is the third in a ten part guest series by Beth Turner, the wife of Barrett Turner. Beth and Barrett were received into full communion at Easter 2010 and live in Virginia with their four children. Beth’s story of her journey into the Catholic Church can be found at Saved by Love: A Seminary Wife’s Journey. (Continue Reading…)
October 9, 2014
This is the second in a ten part guest series by Beth Turner, the wife of Barrett Turner. Beth and Barrett were received into full communion at Easter 2010 and live in Virginia with their four children. Beth’s story of her journey into the Catholic Church can be found at Saved by Love: A Seminary Wife’s Journey. (Continue Reading…)
October 7, 2014
This is the first in a ten part guest series by Beth Turner, the wife of Barrett Turner. Beth and Barrett were received into full communion at Easter 2010 and live in Virginia with their four children. Beth’s story of her journey into the Catholic Church can be found at “Saved by Love: A Seminary Wife’s Journey.”
Introducing Leo and the Rosary
October 6, 2014
The following essay is a guest contribution by Tacy Williams Beck. She received a BA from Covenant College in English, with experience teaching English, Rhetoric, and Dance. Tacy and Stephen lived in Maryland for seven years, and they have four children: three girls and a boy. Their family was received into full communion with the Catholic Church on Easter, 2011 and now live in Tennessee. Stephen described that journey in a CTC interview we posted in 2011. Tacy currently writes for Real Housekeeping. See also her articles for Catholic Mom, and Dappled Things at those links. She likes to read, bake, sew, and, of course, write. Follow her on Pinterest here.
October 3, 2014
When I was a Reformed Protestant I remember that there was a certain time every year when some churches would advertise a special “animal blessing” event. I found the whole idea quite bizarre. There was of course my distinctly Reformed anti-clerical conception of a “priesthood of all believers” (1 Peter 2) – why would I need a priest or pastor to bless my dog? There was also the anti-sacramental Reformed aversion to blessings at all – why would my dog even need such a blessing? And, mixed in for good measure, was a vision of a long line of stereotypical persons from whom I felt deeply removed, both philosophically and personally: the couple who had decided they weren’t ready or didn’t want children, and decided to go with the dog; the “cat lady” and her horde of best-friend felines; and maybe even the hapless child with his pet rock. I admit it was a fairly arrogant, unsympathetic, overly-critical perception of the whole practice, largely stemming from my ignorant yet self-assured Reformed convictions. It wasn’t until I became Catholic that I came to understand not only why churches, and specifically the Catholic Church, fostered this annual event, but also why it might be something that actually reflected goodness, truth, and beauty.
For those who would have been more ecumenically-minded or well-studied than I, the occasion behind this blessing of the animals is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, which we celebrate on October 4th.1 Even unstudied minds will probably have some popular perception of St. Francis as the animal-loving, tree-hugging medieval spiritualist who embraced a life of poverty, gained enough followers to found a new religious order, and is now most commonly memorialized through statues adorning the gardens of many Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Yet St. Francis’ contributions to Catholic life and practice run much deeper than this common characterization of the twelfth- and thirteenth-century figure. In this post I’ll address how St. Francis and his “creation-loving” image overlaps and differs from the Reformed perspective. I will also briefly discuss what St. Francis and his mendicant movement means in Catholic life and practice, through the eyes of writer and popular historian John M. Sweeney’s recent book When Saint Francis Saved the Church: How a Converted Medieval Troubadour Created a Spiritual Vision for the Ages, and an older favorite by G.K. Chesterton, St. Francis of Assisi.
In our increasingly environmentally-aware age, reference to St. Francis’s love of the natural world seems more quaint and agreeable than it would have been to thirteenth-century ears. Sweeney notes that “no one in the thirteenth century paid any regard or showed concern to animals, other than a source of labor, transportation, clothing, or food.”2 This is almost certainly an exaggeration, though it is certainly possible that those in the Medieval world with a low view of the physical world would have found St. Francis’s unique attention to animals and creation a bit strange. He released doves that had been offered for sale; he sent recently-caught fish back into the water, and probably most enduringly crafted “Canticle of the Creatures,” that thanked God for the sun, moon, wind, water, fire, earth, as well as all of the created order.3 As Sweeney notes, “he seemed to look into the eyes of creatures and see himself in them,” and even walked reverently over rocks in order to show honor to the One who is the Rock.4
Protestants may also be familiar with St. Francis’s high view of nature through the English hymn “All Creatures of Our God and King,” written by William Henry Draper which was based on St. Francis’s “Canticle of the Sun,” the first five stanzas of which reads,
All creatures of our God and King, lift up your voices, let us sing: Alleluia, alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beams, thou silver moon that gently gleams,
O praise him, O praise him, Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia! (Refrain)
Thou rushing wind that art so strong, ye clouds that sail in heaven along, O praise him, Alleluia! Thou rising morn, in praise rejoice, ye lights of evening, find a voice, (R)
O praise him, O praise him, Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia! Thou flowing water, pure and clear, make music for thy Lord to hear, Alleluia, alleluia! Thou fire so masterful and bright, that givest man both warmth and light, (R)
Dear mother earth, who day by day unfoldest blessings on our way, O praise him, Alleluia! The flowers and fruits that in thee grow, let them his glory also show: (R)
Chesterton offers an interesting thesis on explaining how St. Francis’s appreciation for nature came at a singularly unique time in Christian history. The world into which Christianity emerged was a world immersed in nature worship, “colored by dangerous and rapidly deteriorating passions” that seemed to view all of nature through a hyper-sexualized lens. “It was no good telling such people to have a natural religion full of stars and flowers,” says Chesterton. “There was not a flower or even a star that had not been stained.”5 Christianity then by necessity served as a counter-agent to a world warped by its degrading of creation, in turn purging Roman culture of its wickedness by orienting men’s hearts to heaven and “the desert,” as so many early Christians embraced lives of poverty and penance.6 By the time of Francis, the “purge of paganism” had been accomplished across Christendom, as man had “stripped from his soul the last rag of nature worship,” and was thus prepared to “return to nature,” in the sense of finding God’s beauty, truth, and goodness in the created order.7 In a sense, St. Francis was able to look at nature with an almost youthful innocence that could see God’s work and person everywhere. As Sweeney notes, “this is not an evil world,” but a “divine contribution to the authentic human experience.”8
An examination of the natural world to further contemplation and worship of God is not inherently unique to Catholicism, but finds a happy home in Reformed thought as well. Although there has been much debate in Reformed scholarship over Calvin’s natural theology, some Calvin scholars have argued that the French Reformed theologian was himself an appreciator of God’s glory visible in nature. In The Theater of His Glory: Nature and Natural Order in the Thought of John Calvin, Susan Schreiner argues that Calvin’s theology was deeply shaped by an appreciation of nature, observing that, “in all of [his] writings… Calvin taught that God’s glory extended beyond the fate of the individual soul and encompassed the whole of creation.”9 Peter Huff likewise claims that, “raging winds and churning seas shape the landscape of [Calvin's] thought, while growling beasts and twittering birds render his work a veritable bestiary of Christian doctrine.”10 Huff quotes Calvin’s belief that creation was a “most glorious theater,” acting as a “channel of revelation”11 Calvin also argued that, “[in] God’s individual works, but especially in them as a whole… God’s powers are actually represented as in a painting.”12
Elsewhere Calvin writes that all creatures, “from those in the firmament to those which are in the center of the earth, are able to act as witnesses and messengers of his glory,” and that “little birds that . . . sing of God” and the beasts that “clamor for him” guide our meditation of sacred things.13 We might be even surprised to find that Calvin believed that when God ordained that animals would serve humanity, “He did it with the condition that we should handle them gently,” and that Holy Scripture require humans “to practice justice even in dealing with animals.”14
American Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards likewise observed in his essay “Of Insects,” that “of all insects, no one is more wonderful than the spider, especially with respect to their sagacity admirable way of working.” Following a long discussion that flowed out of his close examination of the spider, Edwards was able to declare, “we hence see the exuberant goodness of the Creator, who hath not only provided for all the necessities, but also for the pleasure and recreation of all sorts of creatures, and even the insects and those that are most despicable.”15 Even Orthodox Presbyterian theologian J. Gresham Machen’s humorous and inspiring essay “Mountains and Why We Love Them,” explains Machen’s “thrill” in climbing mountains, and quotes him as saying at the summit of the Matterhorn, “[I] was afraid I was going to break down and weep for joy.” From the mountains, Machen was able to contemplate Europe:
There it has struggled; there it has fallen; there it has looked upward to God. The history of the race seems to pass before you in an instant of time, concentrated in that fairest of all the lands of the earth. You think of the great men whose memories you love, the men who have struggled there in those countries below you, who have struggled for light and freedom, struggled for beauty, struggled above all for God’s Word.16
Indeed, in his reflection on the tumultuous time of the 1930s and its embrace of fascism and dictatorship, Machen found in nature great comfort, noting that “in hours of darkness and discouragement I love to think of that sharp summit ridge of the Matterhorn piercing the blue or the majesty and the beauty of that world spread out at my feet when I stood on the summit of the Dent Blanche.”17 Nature had been for Machen, as it is for many of us, a window into the eternal truths and beauty of the living God.
We should not be surprised to find a shared theological heritage of praising God for his goodness and creativity in the created order, given the significance of nature in the Bible and even the life of Christ. The Old Testament is filled with references to nature as a testament to eternal truth. For example, Psalm 19 begins,
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat (ESV).
In an interesting fulfillment of the psalmists’ observation that the “heavens declare the glory of God,” Jesus’ birth was foretold by a star, while his entrance into the world via a stable, surrounded by animals, has sparked much reflection in Christian song on even the natural world welcoming the Incarnation.18 As Sweeney observes, St. Francis, who is responsible for the first Nativity scene, seemed to make this connection in his reflection on the Incarnation, seeing the “humility of God’s being born in a stable and the animals that were likely present when it occurred.”19 In his earthly ministry, Jesus relied heavily on the natural world in his teachings and parables. Probably most famously, Christ in His Sermon on the Mount proclaimed in Matthew 6:26-30 (RSV),
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
In observing God’s tender care for the birds, and in claiming that the lilies of the field were more glorious than Solomon in all his splendor, Jesus demonstrated his notably high view of nature, and how the natural order could actually serve as a spiritual teaching mechanism to elicit reflection, thanksgiving, and praise. Even his entrance into Jerusalem upon a donkey declared not only a specific spiritual lesson on Christ’s humility, but also God’s unexpected means of fulfilling ancient Jewish prophecy (Matthew 21:7; Zechariah 9:9).
I would also offer that Catholicism shares a further corollary with Reformed Protestants in its conception of the natural world, and specifically animals. Just as many Reformed persons cringe at our culture’s increasing perception of nature, and specifically animals, as holding equal value with humankind, Catholicism likewise teaches that there is an ontological difference between humans, created in the image of God, and the creatures of this world. Although “each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection,” Jesus has declared that we are of more value than birds, that “man is the summit of the Creator’s work.”20 Furthermore, the Catechism, drawing on the writings of St. Catherine of Siena and St. John Chrysostom, teaches that,
…Of all visible creatures only man is “able to know and love his creator” He is “the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake,” and he alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God’s own life. It was for this end that he was created, and this is the fundamental reason for his dignity:
“What made you establish man in so great a dignity? Certainly the incalculable love by which you have looked on your creature in yourself! You are taken with love for her; for by love indeed you created her, by love you have given her a being capable of tasting your eternal Good.”
Being in the image of God the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons. and he is called by grace to a covenant with his Creator, to offer him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in his stead. God created everything for man, but man in turn was created to serve and love God and to offer all creation back to him:
“What is it that is about to be created, that enjoys such honor? It is man that great and wonderful living creature, more precious in the eyes of God than all other creatures! For him the heavens and the earth, the sea and all the rest of creation exist…”21
With this being the case, the Church, in accord with those strands of Reformed thought that draw sharp distinctions between man and creation, can express wary concern with those who would seek to reduce or eliminate those distinctions. To give a common contemporary example, for a couple to claim that getting a pet will in some way prepare them for parenthood is a bit like someone determining that in order to learn tennis, he will take up volleyball. There may be a lot of commonality: a ball, a serve, and a net, for example; there may even be some things about volleyball that will make an individual, all things being equal, a better tennis player: athletic conditioning, the development of quick reflexes, and teamwork. But such an individual will find that the divide between the two remains so great as to make the commonalities seem almost irrelevant. The competitive volleyball player will not learn how to hold the racquet, nor how to hit forehands, backhands, or volleys, nor the differently-dimensioned court, nor the divergent rules and strategies. That player will find himself in the “beginner” tennis class, just like everybody else. Volleyball does not a tennis player make.
And so it goes with pets and children. There may be some commonality: learning to be responsible for another by providing meals, cleaning up excrement, offering exercise, and the like. But babies, toddlers, and little children are not dogs. The latter require a small fraction of the attention children require; they do not require progressively more complex toys and ideas to feed their growing minds; they will, to put it quite bluntly, greatly complicate and alter one’s life and goals in a way a dog or cat is incapable of accomplishing. I know this from personal experience. My parents lovingly gave me a springer spaniel puppy for my tenth birthday. I loved that dog, and although I lacked the responsibility to care for it without the patient supervision of my parents, I grew up with it. She lasted through my college years and beyond, by which time I had learned to responsibly care for and appreciate a pet. When she died, I wept… a lot. It was like a part of my childhood died with her. But she was still just a dog. Annemarie, our 16-month old, on the other hand, is not a dog (trust me, I’ve tried to play fetch with her, and her independent streak leads her to tire of the game after the second throw). From the day of her birth, she required immediate supervision and a deep level of responsibility on the part of her parents. She needs her parents’ attention and love all the time, and that they continue to learn and grow as well so that they can patiently and lovingly care for her and help her develop from a baby to a toddler, to a child, to God-willing, an adult (notice I skipped teenager… please God!) To think that my experience with my dog could in any serious way adequately prepare me for my daughter would be simple nonsense, and quite insulting to her (my daughter, not the dog).
We have seen that St. Francis’s deep spiritual appreciation of nature is not something novel, but ingrained within the very heart of Scripture and the teaching of Christ. Reformed thinkers, themselves steeped in both the Bible and various Christian traditions, have maintained this love of the created order. So what of the Catholic Church’s annual blessing of the animals? There can be nothing wrong with loving the animals God has entrusted us, be they pet or beast of burden. Indeed, it seems proper not only to thank the Lord for the good things they provide us, but even, like Jesus, to seek to learn important lessons from them and the greater natural world. To the Reformed, I would think then the greatest obstacle to appreciate and accept such a practice as that developed by the Catholic Church on the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi would be Reformed suspicions of the sacerdotal and sacramental system.22 This, of course, would be a much larger and harder pill to swallow, and this short reflection is hardly the appropriate place to provide the necessary arguments for the Catholic sacramental system. I would only briefly note that if we are willing, as now seems appropriate, to ask God to bless our animals and the natural world, it is not necessarily an illogical or distant step to think a representative of God might mediate that blessing for us.23 It is enough for now to recognize the shared theological heritage of Catholic and Reformed, and how St. Francis’s vision of God mediated through creation can be a guide and inspiration to us all in our worship of the Triune God.
For those interested in knowing more about St. Francis beyond his particular relationship to the natural world, there is a vast host of literature on the saint that discusses, from a variety of angles, the life of this controversial figure. John M. Sweeney’s recently-published When Saint Francis Saved the Church: How a Converted Medieval Troubadour Created a Spiritual Vision for the Ages is one such study, seeking to move beyond those stereotypical impressions of Francis by re-telling his story as a model or inspiration for our own spirituality, and arguing that Francis “saved” Medieval Catholic Christianity. Unfortunately, the former goal is much easier to accomplish in a 175-page book, while the latter may not be possible regardless of how many pages were available to the author.
As for the former, Sweeney succeeds in demonstrating how the life and teachings of St. Francis, should, like the Jesus of the Gospels, unnerve, unsettle, and provoke us into a deeper self-examination and active search for God. Indeed, like many of our own conversion stories, St. Francis’s spiritual re-direction came after reflecting on Holy Scripture, particularly Jesus’s interaction with the rich young ruler in Matthew 19 and Christ’s direction in Luke 9 to his disciples to take “nothing for the journey” in their evangelizing efforts.24
To give but one example from St. Francis’s life, Sweeney highlights his embrace of “our Sister Death,” a startling phrase, but significant in demonstrating the saint’s understanding that “death was essential to life and essential to knowing the God whom he wanted to love in every possible way.”25 Indeed, the full verse from the “Canticle of Creatures” is moving in its reflection on death:
Praise to you, O Lord, for our Sister Death and the death of the body from whom no one may escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin: but blessed are they who are found walking by your most holy will, for the second death shall have no power to do them harm. Praise to you, O my Lord, and all blessing. We give you thanks and serve you with great humility.26
In the eyes of St. Francis, we can actually be grateful for death, as it takes on new meaning and significance through the resurrection, as St. Paul declares, “Where O death is thy sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). This is certainly an important and Scripturally-centered message for our contemporary culture, where we seek to lengthen youth, prolong life, and avoid the great unknown.
Sadly, much of the powerful message St. Francis has for our present day is obscured in most of Sweeney’s book, which suffers from a host of historical over-simplifications, straw-men, and false dichotomies. Among these many problems is the frequent pitting of a supposedly “revolutionary” St. Francis against the often overly-dogmatic Catholic Church, an apparent aversion to theology that expresses itself through some unfortunate back-handed criticisms of the Dominicans, or Order of Preachers, and a failure to view historical events like the Crusades with a sympathetic eye.27
Sweeney makes the audacious claim that St. Francis is “perhaps a man for our time” because he was “relatively uninterested in theological debates and creedal statements.”28 This theme continues throughout the book, seen for example in the author’s assessment that the “Canticle of the Creatures,” in the authors’ words, “avoids theological nuance.”29 Apart from the immediate fact that the section of the Canticle quoted above makes strong theological statements in its praise of God for death, its allusions to Scripture, and its reference to the Catholic doctrine of mortal sin, Sweeney’s analysis fails to recognize the theological impetus behind many aspects of St. Francis’s life and teaching. To take but one example, Sweeney’s re-telling of St. Francis’s invention of the Christmas crèche in 1223 fails to recognize that the action was more than an embrace of the “earthiness” of the Incarnation, but also a theological statement against the anti-incarnational beliefs of the Cathars and Albigensians, popular medieval heretical movements which had many followers in France and Italy.30
Sweeney likewise portrays St. Francis as a foil against St. Dominic’s contemporaneous religious order, the Order of Preachers. While St. Francis is portrayed as a man who lived out a radical call to friendship with all peoples, Sweeney describes the Dominicans as offering “doctrinaire preaching” far removed from the poor masses.31 He later depicts St. Dominic as pandering to the papacy, claiming that he “must have known every lemonade vendor on the Via Flaminia,” the ancient road that leads to Rome. St. Francis meanwhile, is praised as being an outsider to the papal hierarchy, a sort of renegade who “has never been Rome’s favorite religious leader.”32
This is an entirely unnecessary contrast to make. For one, the Dominicans did tremendous good in informing poorly catechized Catholics across Medieval Europe of Church doctrine, saving many from heresy and deepening love of God and contemplation of Christ. St. Thomas Aquinas, probably the most famous and influential member of the Order of Preachers (and a Doctor of the Church), has had an incalculable effect on Church teaching and the lives of individual Catholics. For those who have interacted with Dominicans, one quickly discovers that the more we know of God, the more profound our love of Him will become. In truth, I myself was converted to the Catholic faith in part through the guidance and help of a Dominican theologian. In creating this unnecessary chasm between the two orders, Sweeney fails to recognize that the diverse members of the Church have many charisms, and that individuals inclined to a Franciscan or Dominican spirituality (or the many other forms of Catholic spirituality) can work and worship cooperatively rather than combatively.
Finally, Sweeney’s historical analysis suffers from a constant over-simplification of events and trends in Medieval Europe. For example, he rightly praises St. Francis for his love of Muslims and his evangelizing spirit towards them, specifically those with whom crusading armies were fighting in Egypt. Sweeney argues that for St. Francis there was “no ‘other,’” which allowed St. Francis to see the Egyptian sultan Malik al-Kamil as another human being. “Probably for the first time,” the sultan, in turn, “experienced a Christian faithful to the original teachings of Jesus.” Sweeney praises Francis for his “deeply respectful” attitude towards all human beings, even Muslims, and contrasts it with his “average contemporary who preached and believed that Muslims and Jews should simply confess Jesus Christ or die.” St. Francis is further lauded for penning his “Praises to God” in 1224 as likely modeled after The Ninety-Nine Beautiful Names of Allah, demonstrating his ability to see the good in Muslim dogma and practice.33
In seeking to rightly praise St. Francis’s remarkable charity towards Muslims and appreciation of the good in Islam, Sweeney presents a “straw man” conception of the Crusades that fails to recognize its original intent, which as Chesterton described it, was to prevent a tangible “military danger to Christendom.”34 Indeed, many crusaders viewed their vows as acts of charity, seeking to assist their eastern Christian brothers, the Byzantines, in their attempts to stem the tide of Muslim invasions and provocations. Nor do we hear of the pious St. Louis IX, king of France, who launched two crusades in hopes of reclaiming lands for Christianity to grow and flourish, all the while maintaining a flawless record of integrity and holiness. Unless we want to question the Church’s decision to canonize Louis IX and other crusaders, it seems a bit uncharitable and unfair to claim that only St. Francis’s approach to Muslims was “faithful to the original teachings of Jesus.” In Sweeney’s account, we are exposed to typical popular conceptions of the Crusades: an anecdote of crusaders massacring a town of Jews in France and the opportunistic Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, who made a pledge to defeat the Muslims on crusade. In truth, Muslim atrocities towards Christians easily compete with those of Crusaders, while Frederick II avoided crusading for years after his pledge, was excommunicated by a pope for his reneging on his promise, and, when he finally reached the Holy Land, cut a tenuous deal with Muslim leaders rather than fight.35
It is certainly true, and gravely misfortunate, that the era of the Crusades was marked by its fair share of greed, opportunism, and violence. But as Chesterton perceptively notes in his own St. Francis of Assisi,, “the Crusaders doubtless abused their victory, but there was a victory to abuse.”36 As he explains later in his own book on St. Francis, “it is true that there is not, as pacifists and prigs imagine, the least inconsistency between loving men and fighting them, if we fight them fairly and for good cause.”37 It is not necessary to entirely malign the Crusades in order to see the beauty and “revolutionary” nature of St. Francis’s overtures to Muslims. Indeed, as with most everything with the Medieval saint, his “revolutionary” actions, be they loving Muslims, appreciating nature, or embracing poverty, were not actually new, but demonstrative of a return to the heart of the Gospel.38
It is for these reasons that I cannot recommend Sweeney’s book as a particularly helpful guide in discerning the impact and meaning of St. Francis’s life and teaching. One interested in developing a more balanced, historical, and theologically-faithful account of the mendicant friar would do well to read Chesterton’s classic biography, or Augustine Thompsons’s (O.P.) recent study, Francis of Assisi: A New Biography. Although I have not personally read Fr. Thompson’s text, it has received widespread academic praise from trustworthy sources, such as the religious journal First Things.39 Also, while an undergraduate at the University of Virginia (and prior to my conversion), I had the pleasure of taking a survey course on the history of Christianity taught by Fr. Thompson. The course featured the classic original biography of St. Francis, The Little Flowers of Saint Francis, and spent considerable time discussing the historical St. Francis and his impact on Christianity. If his writing is anything like his lecturing, I’m sure many will find his book of great value.
In honor of my father, Daniel Francis Chalk, of whose love of nature and often eccentric spirit St. Francis would be proud. Happy Birthday Dad! May your soul rest in peace. St. Francis of Assisi, who, in the words of G.K. Chesterton, “did not want to see the wood for the trees,” but “wanted to see each tree as a separate and sacred thing,” pray for us!
- This became more personal when I realized my father, Daniel Francis Chalk, though a lapsed Catholic, had a unique connection to St. Francis having been born on his feast day. His parents, themselves Catholics, aptly named my father after the saint, and the choice couldn’t have been more appropriate: my father throughout his life held a deep love and appreciation for nature, particularly birds, just as St. Francis. Many might also note that my father, like St. Francis, was often accused of being wild and impetuous! [↩]
- John M. Sweeney, When Saint Francis Saved the Church: How a Converted Medieval Troubadour Created a Spiritual Vision for the Ages, (Notre Dame, Ave Maria Press, 2014), 63. [↩]
- Sweeney, pp. 62-68. [↩]
- Sweeney, pp. 107, 113. [↩]
- G.K. Chesterton, St. Francis of Assisi, Veritatis Splendor Publications, 2013), pp. 28, 30. [↩]
- Chesterton, p. 30. [↩]
- Chesterton, p. 36. [↩]
- Sweeney, pp. 69-70. [↩]
- Susan E. Schreiner, The Theater of His Glory: Nature and the Natural Order in the Thought of John Calvin (Durham, NC: Labyrinth Press, 1991) p. 5. [↩]
- Peter A. Huff, “Calvin and the Beasts: Animals in John Calvin’s Theological Discourse,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 42/1 (March 1999) pp. 67–75. [↩]
- John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill (Philadelphia, The Westminster Press, 1960) 1.6.2. [↩]
- Calvin, Institutes, 1.5.10. [↩]
- John Calvin, Calvin: Commentaries, Library of Christian Classics, Joseph Haroutunian, trans. and ed., (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1958) pp. 59–60. [↩]
- Quoted in Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England 1500–1800 (London: Allen Lane, 1983) p. 329. More humorously, Calvin late in life recalled that Genevan residents had set their dogs upon him, while some of his critics had taken to naming their pets after him (Huff, p. 71.) [↩]
- Jonathan Edwards, “Of Insects,” http://www.apuritansmind.com/puritan-favorites/jonathan-edwards/scientific-writings/of-insects/ [↩]
- J. Gresham Machen, “Mountains and Why We Love Them.” This paper was read before a group of ministers in Philadelphia on November 27, 1933 and subsequently published in Christianity Today (August 1934) and in the author’s collection of essays, What Is Christianity? (edited by Ned B. Stonehouse; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951). http://opc.org/machen/mountains.html/ [↩]
- J. Gresham Machen, “Mountains and Why We Love Them.” [↩]
- I am thinking specifically of the 12th-century traditional French Christmas carol “The Friendly Beasts,” in which various animals sing of the role they played in helping Mary and Joseph, and welcoming Christ into the world. [↩]
- Sweeney, p. 114. [↩]
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, 339, 343-343. [↩]
- CCC 356-358. [↩]
- Anecdotally, Calvin used the language of animals to mock the Catholic sacramental system, saying that men ordained to the level of the priesthood “are turned from horses into asses.” He further called Bishops “apes,” who “imitate everything wantonly and without any discrimination.” (Calvin, Institutes, 4.19.29) [↩]
- We at Called To Communion have elsewhere sought to provide the biblical, historical, and logical reasons for the Church’s sacerdotalism, which provides the basis for believing that a specific kind of individual, uniquely invested by God with sacramental powers, might offer a unique blessing to a person, animal, or object. See Holy Orders and the Sacramental Priesthood and St. Thomas on Sacramentalism. [↩]
- One also thinks of St. Augustine’s conversion following his reading of Romans 13, or St. Anthony’s decision to head into the desert after hearing a reading from Matthew 19. I myself was deeply moved by a verse from Judges in my own conversion to Catholicism: “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges, 21:25). [↩]
- Sweeney, p. 128. [↩]
- Sweeney, p. 130. [↩]
- Sweeney, p. 18. [↩]
- Sweeney, p. 20. [↩]
- Sweeney, p. 131. [↩]
- Sweeney, pp. 114-116. As Associate Professor of Ancient and Medieval History at Jacksonville State University Donald S. Prudlo notes, St. Francis’s entire life was an extended testament against the Cathar heresy, a fight necessitated all the more by the fact that the saint’s embrace of poverty seemed dangerously similar to the similarly mendicant Cathars. See Francis of Assisi Pattern For Lay Holiness. [↩]
- Sweeney, pp. 45-46. [↩]
- Sweeney, pp. 95-96. [↩]
- Sweeney, pp. 57-61. [↩]
- Chesterton, p. 35. [↩]
- For a more balanced perspective on the crusades, Thomas F. Madden’s The New Concise History of the Crusades (Lanham, Rowman & Littlefield, 2006) is a great introductory text. [↩]
- Chesterton, p. 20. [↩]
- Chesterton, p. 51. [↩]
- For more information on the Crusades, see Called To Communion‘s podcast interview of Professor of History and Director of the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Saint Louis University, Thomas F. Madden. [↩]
- See Carlos Eire’s First Things book review, Paradoxical Francis. [↩]
For older posts, visit the archives.
June 8, 2014
On March 24 of this year we posted a guest article by Brandon Addison titled “The Quest for the Historical Church: A Protestant Assessment.” We had invited Brandon some months earlier to write an essay for Called To Communion on the topic of his choice, and we are very grateful for his generosity, trust, and yeoman work in putting together such a thorough essay. Brandon’s essay is one of the first posts we have published written from a Protestant perspective, and we hope it leads to further, ever-more fruitful exchanges of this sort. (Continue Reading…)
August 11, 2013
This is a guest post by Michael Rennier. Michael received a BA in New Testament Literature from Oral Roberts University in 2002 and a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School in 2006. He served the Anglican Church in North America as the Rector of two parishes on Cape Cod, Massachusetts for five years. After discerning a call to conversion, Michael and his family moved to St. Louis. On October 16th, 2011, he and his wife were received into full communion with the Catholic Church by the Most Rev. Robert Carlson, Archbishop of St. Louis. Michael tells the story of his conversion in “Into the Half-Way House: The Story of an Episcopal Priest.” In May of 2012 he wrote another guest post for CTC titled “Immortal Diamond: The Search of Gerard Manley Hopkins for Beauty. He currently works for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
January 27, 2013
This is a guest article by Casey Chalk. Casey was born and raised in a Virginia suburb of Washington D.C. Casey was baptized into the Catholic Church and received the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion before leaving the Church with his parents for evangelicalism at the age of eight. Casey attended the University of Virginia, where he was introduced to Reformed theology. Upon graduation in 2007 (B.A. History, Religious Studies; Masters in Teaching), Casey became a member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and enrolled in Reformed Theological Seminary. However, an intensive period of study of the “Catholic question” ultimately resulted in Casey’s reunion with the Catholic Church in October 2010. He was confirmed at St. Timothy’s Catholic Church in Chantilly, Virginia at the Easter Vigil in 2011. Casey works for the federal government, and joyfully also received the sacrament of marriage in August 2012 with his wife Claire. (Continue Reading…)
December 12, 2012
This is a guest article by Dr. Kenneth J. Howell. Dr. Howell earned an M.Div. from Westminster Theological Seminary, an M.A. in Linguistics and Philosophy from the University of South Florida, a Ph.D. from Indiana University in Linguistics and the Philosophy of Science, and a second Ph.D. from Lancaster University (U.K.) in the History of Christianity and Science. He was a Presbyterian minister for eighteen years and a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary for seven years. He was received into the Catholic Church in 1996. He taught in several universities until 2012, the last of which was a decade at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) where he also was the Director of the Institute of Catholic Thought. He now serves as the Resident Theologian and Director of Pastoral Care of the Coming Home Network International. He continues his work of translating and commenting on the early Church Fathers, having already authored Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna: A New Translation and Theological Commentary and Clement of Rome and the Didache: A New Translation and Theological Commentary. In June of 2010 we posted the video of his talk titled “The Issue of Authority in Early Christianity,” which he delivered at the Deep in History conference in 2009. (Continue Reading…)
September 23, 2012
This is a guest post by Jason Stellman. Jason was born and raised in Orange County, CA, and served as a missionary with Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa in Uganda (’91-’92) and in Hungary (’94-’00). After becoming Reformed and being subsequently “dismissed” from ministry with Calvary, he went to Westminster Seminary California where he received an M.Div. in 2004. After graduation he was ordained by the Pacific Northwest Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America and called to plant Exile Presbyterian Church in the Seattle area, where he served from 2004 until resigning in the Spring of 2012. He is the author of Dual Citizens: Worship and Life Between the Already and the Not Yet (Reformation Trust, 2009), and The Destiny of the Species (forthcoming from Wipf and Stock Publications). In 2011 he served as the prosecutor in the trial of Peter Leithart in the Pacific Northwest Presbytery of the PCA. He currently resides in the Seattle area with his wife and three children. He was received into full communion with the Catholic Church on September 23, 2012. (Continue Reading…)
August 6, 2012
May 27, 2012
This a guest post by Joshua Lim. Joshua graduated this Spring from Westminster Seminary California, where he earned his MA in historical theology. He was born and raised in the PCUSA. He spent a few years in college as a Baptist before moving back to a confessional Reformed denomination (URCNA) prior to entering seminary. He was received into full communion with the Catholic Church this year on April 21st, the feast day of St. Anselm. He plans on continuing his studies in systematic theology.
March 14, 2012
“Have you been Born Again? Catholic Reflections on a Protestant Doctrine, or How Calvin’s view of Salvation destroyed his Doctrine of the Church”
When I first began to study Calvin in earnest, I was puzzled by what seemed a glaring omission in his writings and sermons. He never counseled his readers and listeners to be “Born Again.” This struck me as odd because I knew our denomination (PCA) considered Calvin to be our true founder. I also knew that the evangelical doctrine of “New Birth” (regeneration), understood as the moment of personal, conscious conversion, was the linchpin, the central dogma of our congregation. As an Evangelical Presbyterian, I had grown up constantly hearing these exhortations to be “Born Again.” My pastors and teachers revered evangelistic luminaries like Billy Graham and Bill Bright right along with the great Lion of Geneva. (Continue Reading…)
March 5, 2012
On Monday, March 26, ACT 3 and Wheaton College will be hosting “A Conversation on Unity in Christ’s Mission,” involving a dialogue in Edman Chapel between John Armstrong and Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago. The event will be streamed live from the Wheaton.edu website. In light of that forthcoming event, we invited Devin Rose to review Armstrong’s most recent book. Devin is well known to CTC readers. In July of 2010 he wrote a guest post for us titled “Faith and Reason in the Context of Conversion,” in which he recounted his conversion twelve years ago from atheism to faith in Christ. Devin is also the author of the recently published book If Protestantism is True: The Reformation Meets Rome (2011). He blogs at St. Joseph’s Vanguard. We’re grateful to Devin for his thoughtful review of Armstrong’s book. – Eds.
February 13, 2012
Readers of Called To Communion will recognize the name Fred Noltie, since in July of last year he wrote a guest post for us titled “The Accidental Catholic.” Recently we invited Fred to join the CTC team, and we’re delighted that he has agreed. Fred was in the Presbyterian Church in America for twenty years, attending both Covenant College and Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. On the Easter Vigil of 2005 he, his wife Sabryna, and their son were together received into full communion with the Catholic Church at St. Lawrence parish in Monett, Missouri, where they are presently members. In this article Fred tells the story how he and his family became Catholic. Fred, welcome to CTC! -Eds.
In The Accidental Catholic I described how I realized that Protestantism’s proposed means for discerning revealed truth in the Bible do not afford us any basis for certainty about what that truth actually is. This fact, which struck me like a bolt out of the blue, forced me to realize that I could not remain a Protestant. But on the day that I decided that I was no longer Protestant I was equally certain that I would never become Catholic. I was just not interested in that at all, because – after all – it was the Catholic Church, and I just “knew” it was wrong! Why did I change my mind? (Continue Reading…)
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August 31, 2014
Our very own Tom Brown and his wife Jessica recently were interviewed on Rebecca Cherico’s program on Radio Maria, Conversion Keeps Happening. They discuss aspects of their conversion from the PCA to the Catholic Church. The interview is available here. (more…)
April 16, 2014
Protestant criticisms of the Catholic Church frequently target the medieval Catholic Church as a prime example of the Church’s problematic relationship with politics and the secular order. These critics often claim that the medieval Church was ruled by a greedy hierarchy bent on increasing its power in Europe and abroad, eager to silence or even eliminate its detractors or opponents, and rocked by internal scandals, corruption, and ultimately confusion. The seeds of the Reformation, so many Protestants believe, were sown during this tumultuous period where attempts at reform, like conciliarism, were destroyed underfoot by power-hungry popes. (more…)
November 11, 2012
In July of this year, Jason Stellman wrote a Called To Communion guest post titled “I Fought the Church and the Church Won,” in which he explained briefly why he was becoming Catholic. Last week I had an opportunity to talk with Jason about this paradigm change, and the four years of internal wrestling that preceded it. (more…)
June 17, 2012
In this episode, Tom Riello, a former PCA pastor, interviews Jason Stewart, a former pastor in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and his wife Cindy on the topic of their conversion to the Catholic faith in 2011. Jason earned his Master of Divinity from Mid-America Reformed Seminary (Dyer, IN) in 2005, and subsequently served for five and a half years as pastor of Trinity OPC in eastern Pennsylvania. Jason and Cindy currently live in Rockford, IL, and have four children. He is completing a two year course of study with the Diocese of Rockford’s Diaconal Program.
February 17, 2012
August 2, 2011
Stephen Beck was raised Evangelical, but read his way into the Reformed world. He became a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and then the Presbyterian Church in America. Stephen and his family were received into the Catholic Church on the Easter Vigil of 2011 at St. Andrew’s by the Bay Catholic Church in Annapolis, Maryland. He has a Master’s degree from St. John’s College in Annapolis and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Greek and Latin at the Catholic University of America. Stephen is a brilliant thinker with a deep love for Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. In this episode, Stephen’s personal friend and regular CTC contributor, Jeremy Tate, interviews him to find out the reasons behind his conversion.
Right click here to save the MP3 file.
July 16, 2011
On Friday, July 8, I was the guest on the Catholic Answers Live radio program, taking calls and questions from non-Catholics. The one-hour broadcast featured the following questions and discussions:
7′ A discussion of John Calvin’s view of his relation to the Catholic Church, the Catholic positions he affirmed, and his rejection of denominationalism.
15′ A discussion of the Catholic doctrine of communion of the saints, and whether the saints can hear our prayers.
22′ A discussion of legalism and scrupulosity among Catholics.
28′ Why is it difficult for Protestant leaders who recognize the truth of the Catholic Church to become Catholic? Wouldn’t remaining Protestant, in order to hold on to reputation, livelihood, etc. be contrary to Protestant theology?
33′ What are some resources for non-Catholics who want to understand the differences between Calvinism and Catholicism?
36′ What is the Catholic understanding of the relation between divine sovereignty and human freedom?
41′ How does the Catholic understanding of justification address the Reformed claim that the scriptural evidence supports the Protestant notion of justification by the imputation of the alien righteousness of Christ to the believer?
51′ What is the Catholic position on eternal security and the possibility of apostasy, and what is the support for that position?
Listen to the program:
Or download it by right-clicking here.
November 24, 2010
In this episode, Tom Riello, former PCA minister, interviews Annie Witz, a convert from the OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church). Annie’s father is an elder in the OPC church and serves on the board of Westminster Seminary California. Annie shares her personal conversion story from being a devout OPC member to a Catholic in the Melkite Greek Catholic Church (an Eastern Catholic Church). Of particular interest is the role that the women saints, especially the Blessed Virgin Mary, played in her conversion. We are thrilled to have our first female guest on the show!
To download the mp3, click here.
August 25, 2010
May 30, 2010For older posts, visit the archives.
Called to Communion Radio
October 20, 2014
A few weeks back I wrote an article titled: “Marriage, Divorce, & Communion: The Upcoming Synod on the Family.” In the article, I discussed the Catholic doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage and what it means for civilly divorced and civilly remarried Catholics. Based on the teaching of Christ, the Church’s longstanding practice has been to deny communion in these cases. As to whether the Church could change her doctrine on marriage or her discipline based on that doctrine, I wrote this:
The Church has no power to change this teaching, because it is the teaching of Christ. (Matthew 19:11-12) This is something the non-Catholic media often misunderstand. The Church’s dogma on marriage is not a “policy” that can be changed, any more than the Nicene Creed is a “policy.”
In the weeks since I wrote that article, the Synod of Bishops generated a lot of media attention and, quite frankly, a lot of confusion. Did the Synod suggest a change to the Church’s doctrine or practice in this matter? Some media outlets would have you think so. The main source of confusion was a “midterm report” supposedly summarizing the discussions at the Synod. The document suggested that “some synod fathers” were in favor of a change of “present regulations.” The report was neither seen nor approved by the Synod Fathers prior to its release. Instead, it provoked vehement protests among the bishops. (The most controversial statements of the report were not concerned with divorce and remarriage.)
Days after the release of the relatio, the synod Fathers insisted that their objections be made known. Reports of each of the discussion groups (organized by language) were published on the Vatican’s Website Thursday, October 16. The following selections are some of the remarks from synod Fathers on divorce, remarriage, and the sacraments.
Circulus Gallicus A (French language group) wrote:
On the connection between the divorced/remarried and the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist . . . it is important not to change the doctrine of the Church on the indissolubility of marriage and the non-admission of the divorced/remarried to the sacraments.
Circulus Angelicus A (English language group) wrote:
We did not recommend the admission to the sacraments of divorced and re-married people, but we included a very positive and much –needed appreciation of union with Christ through other means.
Circulus Angelicus B (English language group) wrote:
On the subject of the admission of the divorced and remarried to the Eucharist the group stressed two principles flowing directly from God’s Word: 1) the clear affirmation of the indissolubility of a valid sacramental union, while humbly admitting that we need a more credible way of presenting and witnessing to that teaching; 2) The strong desire to invite and embrace sincere Catholics who feel alienated from the family of the Church because of irregular situations.
Circulus Italicus A (Italian language group) directed attention on this issue to the teaching of St. John Paul II in his Familiaris Consortio, section 84. In that document, the Saint wrote:
The Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist.
It is true that the traditional doctrine and practice of the Church are were not universally acclaimed at the Synod. The final version of the Relatio (released October 18) ackowledged this. Clearly, some of the Synod Fathers were searching for a way to “soften” the Church’s position. In his final speech, Pope Francis also acknowledged division among some of the bishops. Strangely, he did not make his thoughts plain on the controversies in question. He did, however, conclude the Synod by beatifying Pope Paul VI. Of his predecessor, Pope Francis said:
Before the advent of a secularized and hostile society, he could hold fast, with farsightedness and wisdom – and at times alone – to the helm of the barque of Peter, while never losing his joy and his trust in the Lord.
To what was Pope Francis referring when he spoke of Paul’s holding fast in the face of a secular and hostile culture? He didn’t say. But we we remember Blessed Paul today mostly for his courageous stand on behalf of the Church’s long-standing tradition on human sexuality and the necessity of openness to life.
Neither the the Synod nor the Pope issued any teaching documents, nor has there been any change to Church law. The final message of the Bishops, published on October 18, ended on a postive note of continuity:
Conjugal love, which is unique and indissoluble, endures despite many difficulties. It is one of the most beautiful of all miracles and the most common.This love spreads through fertility and generativity, which involves not only the procreation of children but also the gift of divine life in baptism, their catechesis, and their education.
September 25, 2014
Listeners to CTC Radio often ask about the Catholic teaching on marriage, divorce, and communion in the Catholic Church. With them in mind, I have attached a brief article I wrote for One Voice, the newspaper for the diocese of Birmingham.
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Here is the Article:
There will be an extraordinary session of the Synod of Bishops in October to discuss “pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.” No doubt the synod will discuss many issues, but none has garnered more media attention than the status of civilly divorced and remarried Catholics. In particular, the media have focused on the question of their eligibility to receive communion. Cardinal Walter Kasper encouraged speculation about a change in the Church’s discipline by asking a consistory of cardinals in February whether or not the Church should continue to refuse communion to civilly divorced and remarried Catholics. As the synod approaches, it seems appropriate to reflect on what the Church can and cannot change about her doctrine and discipline.
What is the rationale for barring the civilly divorced and remarried from Holy Communion? The answer to this requires an understanding of Christian marriage. According to the teaching of Christ and the Catholic faith, Christian marriage is by definition a lifelong union, effected by a promise of fidelity and the intent to raise a family, elevated by Christ to the dignity of a sacrament. It is always indissoluble under any and all circumstances.
To understand the current discussion, the key point to emphasize is the indissolubility of a valid Christian marriage. The Catechism states:
Thus the marriage bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved. This bond, which results from the free human act of the spouses and their consummation of the marriage, is a reality, henceforth irrevocable, and gives rise to a covenant guaranteed by God’s fidelity. The Church does not have the power to contravene this disposition of divine wisdom. (CCC 1640)
The Church has no power to change this teaching, because it is the teaching of Christ. (Matthew 19:11-12) This is something the non-Catholic media often misunderstand. The Church’s dogma on marriage is not a “policy” that can be changed, any more than the Nicene Creed is a “policy.” In this regard, the Church’s Magisterium is a servant of the truth, not its master. The Catechism says, “Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it.” (CCC 86)
Because marriage is indissoluble, a validly married Catholic who obtains a civil divorce from a judge and then contracts another civil marriage is objectively in the state of ongoing adultery. Jesus said, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:11-12) Again, following the teaching of Christ and the words of Sacred Scripture, the Church has no choice but to withhold communion from those deemed to be in grave sin. (1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Corinthians 11:27-29; Matthew 18: 17)
Some have asked whether or not a person could “repent” for a failed first marriage, receive the sacraments of reconciliation, and then be admitted to communion while remaining in an invalid second marriage (i.e., a relationship the Church deems adulterous). This proposal fails to take into account the doctrine on Christian marriage and the doctrine on reconciliation and penance. By definition, there is no forgiveness of sins and no reconciliation as long as one intends to persist in grave sin. St. John Paul II explains, “Without a sincere and firm purpose of amendment, sins remain ‘unforgiven,’ in the words of Jesus, and with him in the Tradition of the Old and New Covenants.” (Dominum et Vivificantem) If a valid marriage exists, all subsequent unions are adulterous by definition. “Repentance,” in this context, must mean repentance for the subsequent union, whatever else may be involved.
The Church does recognize some situations in which reconciliation with a spouse is impossible and in which subsequent civil unions have resulted in children being born. In these cases, the Church sometimes permits the parents in these unions to remain together for the sake of the children, provided they agree to live as brother and sister. This is not a tacit recognition of the subsequent marriage, but rather an unusual and, quite frankly, difficult concession that Catholics must make for the sake of children.
What then could the Church change? Theoretically, some change is possible to the process by which Catholics obtain annulments. It is highly unlikely, however, that such changes could dispense with canonical expertise or judicial process, since the declaration of nullity is a finding of juridical fact and requires moral certainty on the part of the judge. The most likely outcome to the Synod is a deepening pastoral emphasis on the means and the virtue of chastity, and a renewed catechesis on the meaning of Christian marriage. A good deal of ink has been spilled on this topic and I fear that many people may have unfulfilled expectations for what the Church can and will do. Let us remember the Bishops and the Holy Father in our prayers, and ask that they have wisdom and grace to communicate the Church’s teaching with compassion and clarity.
September 11, 2014
My television interview on Women of Grace is now available here.
We discuss the new radio show, Called to Communion, as well as my path to the Catholic Church.
September 9, 2014
Catholics and some non-Catholic Christians disagree about the nature of the sacraments. Are they merely signs? Do they really conform us to Christ? (more…)
September 4, 2014
How do we know the will of God for the Church? On CTC Radio today, I hope we can generate discussion about Scripture and Tradition.
I welcome your emails at email@example.com
There is also live video feed from the Radio Studios at http://www.ewtn.com/radio/radiolive.asp
Here, finally, is a short text I prepared for One Voice, the Diocesan paper for the Diocese of Birmingham. (more…)
September 2, 2014
Today at 2:00 PM Eastern, we launch the new EWTN Radio Show Called to Communion.
We hope to encourage collaboration across media (internet and radio) as we continue to discuss what divides us as Christians and as human beings. (more…)
October 20, 2014
This is the seventh in a ten part guest series by Beth Turner, the wife of Barrett Turner. Beth and Barrett were received into full communion at Easter 2010 and live in Virginia with their four children. Beth’s story of her journey into the Catholic Church can be found at Saved by Love: A Seminary Wife’s Journey. (more…)
October 15, 2014
This is the fifth in a ten part guest series by Beth Turner, the wife of Barrett Turner. Beth and Barrett were received into full communion at Easter 2010 and live in Virginia with their four children. Beth’s story of her journey into the Catholic Church can be found at Saved by Love: A Seminary Wife’s Journey. (more…)
October 13, 2014
This is the fourth in a ten part guest series by Beth Turner, the wife of Barrett Turner. Beth and Barrett were received into full communion at Easter 2010 and live in Virginia with their four children. Beth’s story of her journey into the Catholic Church can be found at Saved by Love: A Seminary Wife’s Journey. (more…)
October 11, 2014
This is the third in a ten part guest series by Beth Turner, the wife of Barrett Turner. Beth and Barrett were received into full communion at Easter 2010 and live in Virginia with their four children. Beth’s story of her journey into the Catholic Church can be found at Saved by Love: A Seminary Wife’s Journey. (more…)
October 9, 2014
This is the second in a ten part guest series by Beth Turner, the wife of Barrett Turner. Beth and Barrett were received into full communion at Easter 2010 and live in Virginia with their four children. Beth’s story of her journey into the Catholic Church can be found at Saved by Love: A Seminary Wife’s Journey. (more…)
October 7, 2014
This is the first in a ten part guest series by Beth Turner, the wife of Barrett Turner. Beth and Barrett were received into full communion at Easter 2010 and live in Virginia with their four children. Beth’s story of her journey into the Catholic Church can be found at “Saved by Love: A Seminary Wife’s Journey.”
Introducing Leo and the Rosary
October 2, 2014
Louis Bouyer is one of the best resources for understanding the theological and devotional genius and goodness of Protestantism from a Catholic perspective. I was re-reading one of his books this morning and came across the following: (more…)
May 8, 2014
Several weeks ago, I spoke to the RCIA class at St Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic Church (Charlotte, NC) on the topic of prayer as presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. My focus was on the prayers of Sacred Scripture, and how these form the bedrock of the traditional prayer life of the Church. This seems like a good topic for our “Catholic Life and Devotion” series at Called to Communion, so here is the audio recording of that talk (the written outline is included below):
I was particularly pleased to participate in the RCIA class at St Thomas Aquinas because this parish has extended great hospitality to my own home church, St Basil the Great Ukrainian Greek Catholic Mission, allowing us to use their chapel for our Sunday liturgies and other feast days, and to arrange the chapel for the particular needs of the Byzantine liturgy. This is truly a case of the one Church “breathing with both lungs” (Eastern and Western), and it has been one of the great joys of my own “Catholic life and devotion” to be a part of this mutual action at first hand, on the local level. (more…)
April 19, 2014
Christians have been venerating the Blessed Virgin Mary for a long time. A really, really long time. Nevertheless I think one may be excused from wondering whether its antiquity doesn’t tell us something about its validity as a form of Christian piety. For now though I will simply appeal to what Jason Kettinger has designated the “Noltie Conundrum,” which you may read here, because I would like this post to be short. (more…)
April 9, 2014
Reformed Christians have a special relationship with beer. I discovered this my junior year in college after spending my first two years at LSU exploring nearly every other Christian faith tradition on campus. The combination of rich fellowship, deep theological discussion, and high quality beer, while sitting outside on a Louisiana front porch on a humid night, always seemed like a taste of heaven. Reformed Christians understand that beer is good. Like any other inherent good it can and has been abused, but Reformed Christians are right to point out that the real problem is not beer, but the human heart. Catholics share this appreciation for good beer consumed in moderation. (more…)
From the Blog
This is the seventh in a ten part guest series by Beth Turner, the wife of Barrett Turner. Beth and Barrett were received into full communion at Easter 2010 and live in Virginia with their four children. Beth’s story of her journey into the Catholic Church can be found at ...
The recent conclusion of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family has generated headline media discussion implying that the Catholic Church reached a near-watershed moment in supposedly considering revising traditional Catholic teaching on homosexuality. Echoing many American political leaders, commentators have asked whether the Church will finally get on ...
This is the sixth in a ten part guest series by Beth Turner, the wife of Barrett Turner. Beth and Barrett were received into full communion at Easter 2010 and live in Virginia with their four children. Beth’s story of her journey into the Catholic Church can be found at ...
A few weeks back I wrote an article titled: "Marriage, Divorce, & Communion: The Upcoming Synod on the Family." In the article, I discussed the Catholic doctrine on the indissolubility ...
Our very own Tom Brown and his wife Jessica recently were interviewed on Rebecca Cherico's program on Radio Maria, Conversion Keeps Happening. They discuss aspects of their conversion from the ...
On March 24 of this year we posted a guest article by Brandon Addison titled "The Quest for the Historical Church: A Protestant Assessment." We had invited Brandon some months earlier to write an essay for Called To Communion on the topic of his choice, and we are very grateful for his generosity, trust, and yeoman work in putting together such a thorough essay. Brandon's essay is one of the first posts we have published written from a Protestant perspective, and we hope it leads to further, ever-more fruitful exchanges of this sort.
This is a guest post by Michael Rennier. Michael received a BA in New Testament Literature from Oral Roberts University in 2002 and a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School in 2006. He served the Anglican Church in North America as the Rector of two parishes on Cape Cod, Massachusetts for five years. After discerning a call to conversion, Michael and his family moved to St. Louis. On October 16th, 2011, he and his wife were received into full communion with the Catholic Church by the Most Rev. Robert Carlson, Archbishop of St. Louis. Michael tells the story of his conversion in "Into the Half-Way House: The Story of an Episcopal Priest." In May of 2012 he wrote another ...
Catholic Life and Devotion
This is the seventh in a ten part guest series by Beth Turner, the wife of Barrett Turner. Beth and Barrett were received into full communion at Easter 2010 and live in Virginia with their four children. Beth’s story of ...
Christian Unity in the News
“After Five Centuries of Division, Catholics and Lutherans Consider Their Common Heritage”
Pope Francis on Unity in the Body of Christ
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to Attend Pope Francis’s Inaugural Mass
Catholic Church and Four Reformed Denominations Agree to Recognize the Validity of Each Other’s Baptisms