Letter to Lewis

Letter to Lewis December 20, 2006

Dear Professor Lewis,

Over the years I have read your books with delight. I owe you an enormous debt of gratitude. Your mixture of wit, common sense and vast learning has instructed and inspired me, and the simple beauty of your vision and clarity of your writing has lifted me up and not a few times moistened my eyes.

I read your letter to Mr Stebbins with some interest. I am myself a convert to the Catholic faith. I know how much you relish conversation with a bit of spice, and I’m sure you won’t mind if I try to pick you up on a few points.

Your analogy of a Platonic society in Athens is intruiging, but it doesn’t allow for the dynamic and continually inspired aspect of Catholic self understanding. The difference is this: Plato is dead. Jesus Christ is not. The Catholic Church claims to be the Body of Christ, inspired daily by the Holy Spirit. Your imagined Platonic Society (no matter how ancient) is merely a literary association. Because the Body of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church we believe that she has the power not only to interpret the Scriptures accurately, but to develop doctrine. I’m sure by now you have had some very interesting discussions with another Oxford man…John Henry Newman. On earth you would most certainly have read his essay on the Development of Doctine. You do not need me to outline his points, but he explains better than I ever can how doctrine develops in the church, and why development of doctrine is not only permissable, but necessary.

All of the aspects of Catholicism which appear to you to be either modern or in variance with the New Testament can easily be shown to have their roots in the apostolic tradition. I must admit, I am surprised that you have not spent more time exploring the real beliefs of the Catholic faith, and how they are rooted in Scripture. Perhaps it is the fault of our own Catholic Biblical scholars that we have not made this clear enough.

Our Marian doctrines do not seem unscriptural to us. There are really only three options: first that the whole number of educated Catholic scholars and bishops are mistaken; second, that we have intentionally believed something which we know to be contrary to Scripture or third, the Marian doctrines are not, in fact, contrary to Scripture even though it “seems” so to you. Could it be that you have not researched this particular area of Catholic belief satisfactorily?

You also reject our “papalism” because in the New Testament Paul reproves Peter. Professor Lewis, this argument does not do you credit! Catholics have always believed that the Pope functions in council with the other apostles, and that internal apostolic consultation is how papal infallilbility actually works. Furthermore, it is clear that after receiving his call the apostle Paul actually went to Jerusalem to seek the sanction of the apostolic Church with Peter at its head.

You object to transubstantiation because it is not in the New Testament. Again, you should know better. We do not believe that transubstantiation is anything more than an attempt to give a philosophical explanation for what is essentially a sacred mystery. Of course it is not in the New Testament per se, but what is there are the simple words, “This is my body.” Transubstantiation is merely our attempt to explain how this can be.

Are you not being somewhat disingenuous in declaring the Catholic Church to be a sect as localized as any Protestant sect? It may appear to you to be particularly “Roman” as Anglicanism is particularly English, but you neglect the antiquity and universality of the Catholic Church around the world today and down the ages.

But these particular points are minor in comparison to your foundational problem. With respect, Professor Lewis, you reject the pope, but you set yourself up as your own pope. Allow me to explain my charge: You say you reject the Catholic theology of the Virgin Mary “because it seems utterly foreign to the New Testament”. The crucial word here is “seems”. Is this not a dangerous form of relativism? When you use the word “seems” don’t you really mean “seems to me”?

You wish to preserve and proclaim ‘mere Christianity’ but who is to define what that is? Shall you? If so, what authority have you to do so, and by what criteria will you define this simple collection of core truths? Shall we have the Scriptures, but not the sacraments? If so, what shall we do with those Scriptures that say the Sacraments are essential to salvation? If we do have the sacraments how shall we decide what is a valid sacrament, what it means and how it is administered?

Shall we have the creeds but not the Church? Then how can we explain the fact that the creeds are defined by the Church? If we do have the Church how shall we choose which Church? In your book Mere Christianity you say we must choose according to which Church is most true, not according to personal preference, but haven’t you yourself chosen according to personal preference?

Can we have the apostolic teaching but not the apostolic succession? How so since the apostles and their immediate successors teach apostolic succession? If we do have apostolic succession mustn’t we ask ourselves where those successors are most likely to be found today?

Shall we have the dogma of the incarnation defined at the councils of the fourth century, but reject the Marian doctrines also promulgated at the same time by the same church?

Or shall we simply go by what “seems” to be true to Mr Lewis?

You will understand that my vote goes with your friends Professor Tolkien and Doctor Havard.

Respectfully yours,
Revd. Dwight Longenecker

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  • C.S. Lewis

    Dear Fr. Longenecker:I am surprised, after you parodied my book title with your own “More Christianity,” that you now present yourself as chummy. And since you refer to a literary association as being “merely a literary association,” it makes me wonder whether you understand anything about me.Alas, I have not yet seen Cardinal Newman here in heaven. It could be that he is still in Purgatory, which, it turns out, is like sitting in the dentist chair, as I once said. Perhaps Newman is having to get a series of time-consuming root canals. (Think “Marathon Man.” Ouch.)It turns out I was right about “Mere Christianity,” notwithstanding all you say. Infallible scriptures, authoritative creeds, reformable church–it’s all correct. Those “rooms” (the RCC, Anglicanism, the Baptist Church, whatever) off of the “Mere Christian” center hall–they’re all waiting rooms, and Heaven is home. Having said that, in our Father’s house are many mansions, and it turns out that at least some of the Catholics here continue to think that the Catholic mansion is (the only) Heaven. They evidently can’t hear the music that comes from the Pentecostal mansion late on Sunday evenings. We’re under instructions not to point out to them that non-Catholics are here.After a bit in Purgatory, Tolkien repented of what turns out to have been his biggest sin and error: Criticizing the inclusion of Father Christmas in Narnia. Jesus ruled that this was absolutely proper and good. And He opined that Narnia is better than LOTR.You’ll work all these issues out. And if you don’t, God will cut you slack. It turns out that the grace that flows from Jesus is such an amazing torrent that some of these ecclesiological questions get swept away. His perfection, His death, His resurrection are so powerful–if on earth you were at all connected with Him by faith, you’re huge in heaven.Gotta go. An Inklings meeting starts soon.–Jack

  • Dear Jack,I referred to you as Professor Lewis, and didn’t dare to get chummy with you, but since you sign yourself ‘Jack’ I can happily now assume a more chummy tone.If you had actually read my book ‘More Christianity’ you would remember how much I stressed in the preface that the title was a tribute not a parody. I forgive you. I’m sure in heaven you have better things to do than go to the library and search out an insignificant volume by one of your greatest fans.My dear Jack, in your famous analogy of rooms off the great hall you created a problem you didn’t solve. You told us not to choose a room according to which one we preferred, but according to which one was most true. Your correct assumption is that there are some rooms which are more true than others, otherwise all the rooms would be of equal value, and that is obviously untrue. The fundamentalist church founded in a store front yesterday by Pastor Bob with his Bible is surely not of the same integrity as (lets say) the Greek Orthodox Church.Logically, therefore, if some rooms are more true than others, there must be one room which is most true, no?According to your own analogy and advice, it is therefore important to choose the room which is most true. Which room might that be?Should we not choose the room that has the most members, has the greatest antiquity, the greatest leader, the most comprehensive teaching? Should we not choose the church with the greatest and most courageous saints, the church that has validated its claim with the most martyrs, and the most courageous missionaries? If we are looking for the most true church shall we not choose the only one that actually claims to be the true church? Perhaps such a claim is so audacious that it is, simply true.To use your own famous knock down argument: the claims of the Catholic Church are so outrageous that they are 1. insane 2. evil 3. true. Finally Jack, surely you know better than to think that we Catholics think heaven is reserved only for us. For goodness sake, down here at the moment we are getting quite a bit of stick for being too universalist. You non-catholics can’t have it both ways.Finally, I’m surprised that you contrast the torrent of grace with ‘ecclesiastical questions’. Surely by now you’ve discovered that the torrent of grace is greatest once the ecclesiastical question is fully resolved.Give my greatly respectful greetings to Prof. Tolkien. You can tell him Middle Earth rules down here, although the CGI folks did did a pretty good job with Mr and Mrs Beaver.I certainly hope you’ve got a celestial version of the Bird and Baby up there. One thing I know for certain that you’ve got up there…a good pint of English bitter.Thanks for writing,Fr Dwight

  • C.S. Lewis

    Fr. Dwight:You say, “The fundamentalist church founded in a store front yesterday by Pastor Bob with his Bible is surely not of the same integrity as (lets say) the Greek Orthodox Church.” There’s something to what you say, but it turns out that you’re simply describing a quality that makes one church more time-bound and place-bound than another. But each one has its special charisms. That the store-front church lasts a generation doesn’t show that it wasn’t valid; it shows that it had a short half-life.If someone complained that your own church (the RCC) was riven by division because of the differences among Jesuits, Dominicans, Fanciscans, etc., you’d explain that they misunderstood. Each of these orders has its uses, its place. If an order flourishes, then dwindles, then dies, that shows not that it was wrong but that it was for a time. Likewise the distinctive values of devotions that one Catholic may adopt, but not all must (whether the Rosary, devotions to different saints, or whatever): They need not be universal to be right for some. And for others, they will be inappropriate, unhelpful. Moreover, there may even be some objective fault or error in the mix in a given order or devotion (or church), but God in His grace will use it for good nonetheless and will eventually redeem the bad. For example, we’ve learned up Here that the “miraculous medal” was a mistake. The well-meaning lady who had the vision thought it was Mary talking to her, but it turns out that it was just a dream like any other dream. God, however, co-opted the thing once it got going and allowed it to be a genuine means for some to grow in their prayer lives. (Others got distracted by it into superstition, but He addressed that problem in other ways.)Likewise, the Rev. Billy Bob’s storefront fire-breathing tabernacle had some gross faults (actually, not the ones you’re thinking of), but Jesus was graciously there in the preaching (actually, the screaming) of the Gospel, and God used it to do things that the Greek Orthodox Church could never do–small things, perhaps, but things that needed doing, like the salvation of a given member of the Elect. It’s sort of like the guy whose brother thought he was a chicken, but the guy wouldn’t take the deluded brother to a psychiatrist, because the family needed the eggs. Yes, Billy Bob’s a crazy whacked-out snake-handling ego-maniac, but Heavenly market research has shown that there are some who can’t be reached by any other type, so God uses him.You’ll be personally interested to know that in the 20th century God observed certain defects in your own Church, and to address them He decided to use evangelical fundamentalism to produce a generation of Gospel-centered, biblically knowledgeable people who would be infused into the RCC to help it. Maybe none of you would be happy to learn that God was using Evangelical Churches as a hot-house for growing Catholic transplants, but there it is. The project is still in process, so we have yet to see how it works out. At the same time, He used the RCC (especially through some remarkably gifted popes) to help address defects in Evangelicalism–again, still a work in process.But about choosing the “most true” room? That would be tricky–even from the well-informed heavenly perspective that I now enjoy. I can definitively say that the Westminster Confession was correct in asserting (in Art. XXV) that “the purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error.” Yes, I could give doctrinal scores to churches by analyzing their catechisms and articles (but I won’t); and I could give very articulate critiques of how their worship does and doesn’t correspond to the glories of Heaven (but I won’t); but I will say that the Church that got the highest score in this matrix might not be the one that God wanted a given person to join. Each church (like each order in your Church, or each devotion) will have its own virtues and its own defects, which will interact differently with different people.Sorry if this sounds like Indifferentism, which it isn’t. It’s mere Christianity.–Jack

  • Dear Jack,I agree with all you say about God using different churches in different ways.You skirted my main points: that you yourself asked us to choose a church that is most true and that the claims of the Catholic Church are so audacious that they must be 1. insane 2. evil 3. true.You’re a great debater Jack, but let’s keep on track.By the way, putting Santa Claus into Narnia really was tacky wasn’t it? I expect St Nicholas has had a quiet word with you about that by now…Humbly and respectfully yours,Fr Dwight

  • C.S. Lewis

    Fr. Dwight:Like I said, Heaven has ruled on the Father Christmas issue, and you’re wrong.The claim of the RCC to be the unique and only manifestation of the Church is mistaken. I think you actually agree, because immediately you will quibble with the way that I’ve expressed the claim, and you’ll want to water it down, and acknowledge God’s grace at work in the “churches” of your separated brethren,” and of course the validity of the EO orders. And you’ll even try to soften Apostolicae Curae (what phrase did Leo use?–“absolutely null and utterly void”), by saying not that Anglican orders are definitively INvalid, just that we can’t validate them; etc. When we get finished, we’ll have a much muted and modulated statement of the RCC’s claim. And if the question is whether that softened claim is either insane or evil or correct, then I’d say none of the above. It is mistaken.I don’t understand the special dispensation that has been granted me this morning to be able to correspond with you, but I fear it is coming to an end. Heaven doesn’t have a good broadband connection. So I will have to leave some of your arguments unanswered. Some of them, it turns out, are answered in a book you yourself wrote (about Mary), but the really good parts were written by that other fellow, the one with the Swedish name, raised by wolves and then joined an Anglican splinter. Hear him.–Jack

  • Anonymous

    My son once told me that the reason Lewis never converted was that God wanted Protestants to read his books. A large number of conversions to Catholicsim have come from reading Lewis. I wonder if your correspondent “Jack” knows that.

  • I think Pseudo-Jack here does an admirable job capturing Lewis’ objections to Roman Catholicism and his general sense of “neo-Patristic Anglicanism”. I think, however, that if Lewis had lived another decade or two, he would have very quickly fled the CofE. Had he lived to see women priests and people tinkering with liturgy, I think he would have been out in a heartbeat (I’m sure Common Worship had him spinning in his tomb). A few more years of dialogue with Tolkien might have gotten him over the Tiber, but I could see him equally well swimming the Bosphorus. Given his sense of Mere Christianity and Tradition, given the similarities between the old BCP and the Eastern Divine Liturgy…and throw in some good old British anti-papist stubbornness…His books were influential in me becoming Anglican, but even more so in my eventually returning to Rome. The Anglicanism Lewis knew was already dying in his day, and was merely an illusion during my brief years in it.

  • Well Jack you can’t have it both ways: you don’t like Catholicism’s exclusive claims, but when we explain how they are nuanced you don’t like us watering it down.Could it be that you don’t want to face the real question and prefer sparring with scarecrows?I’m sorry your broadband connection didn’t give you time to answer my main points: why you now say it doesn’t matter if we choose the most true church or not, and how you get around the knockdown argument that Catholicism’s claims are either 1. insane 2. evil or 3. true.All the best Jack, and thanks for writing.Fr Dwight

  • Mackey Submitting to Truth

    Father Longenecker,2 things: Seeing the context in which Lewis said “…it seems to me…” would be fair. Second, when Lewis used this common expression he was not employing it as a personal opinion/relativistic sort of statement. On the contrary, I believe that it was his atempt at humility. Rather than saying right out “Marian theology is utterly foreign to the NT,” he used gentle language to communicate what is. Three cheers for his kind manner; Protestestants (or Recoverists, like myself) note bene!–Blessings, My Friend

  • Fr. Dwight,I’ve enjoyed your blog greatly since its inception; but some of your recent posts bug me–not so much from their content, but from their tone. I’ve seen these arguments before, from Mark Shea and Al Kimel among others; and I have to admit that they make a great deal of sense and are worth my considering.As I say, though, there’s something in the tone–a certain smugness? An air of superiority? I dunno–that I’m finding extremely offputting. Your tone says to me, “Hey, chum, only an idiot wouldn’t leave the Anglican lifeboat and come home to Rome.” Consequently, these posts are backfiring: you’re not pulling me Romewards; if anything, you’re pushing me away.And if I, who am somewhat sympathetic to your message, am put off, I’m sure many of my Anglican brothers and sisters would be (and perhaps are being) as well. What you can do about this, I dunno. But I thought you should know.

  • DGus

    Father:I don’t think your latest is fair to “Jack’s” comment. He didn’t resent your watering down the RCC’s claim about itself; he cited that dilution as evidence of your own ambivalence about the claim.And I submit you’re wrong that the RCC’s claim MUST be either insane or evil or true. Some such things are very wrong without being either insane or evil. For example, some argue that the Bride of Christ is exclusively a “Baptist Bride”–http://members.aol.com/dwibclc/bapbride.htm–a claim equivalent to the RCC’s claim to be the unique Church. These “Baptist Bride” proponents are wrong, but they’re not crazy or evil (unless we dilute “crazy” and “evil” to the point of being insipid). Not meaning to compare apples and oranges (putting the RCC in company with these kooks), but it’s an analogy.Jack’s suggestion, with which I concur, is simply that you’re wrong. It’s not fair, in such dialogue, to argue “You must either agree with me or declare me crazy.”But OK, if you insist: You’re crazy.

  • Dear Will, I hear what you say, and only hope the smugness of tone you detect is part of an assumed voice for rhetorical effect as it was intended to be. When debating sometimes one adds some flair and panache to heighten the atmosphere.DGUs, dear friend, you make my point. Without an agreed external authority one can only, in the end, say to the other person, “Well I think you’re just wrong.” Mackey, you’re right that Lewis was using an especially English and Anglican manner of speech which softens the debate, but this very mannerism makes my point as well: the non Catholic is right to say, “It seems to me” because he ultimately has no other authority but what seems right to him. The Catholic on the other hand, (at the risk Will) of sounding smug, is able to say, “The Church teaches…”

  • dgus: It’s probably also worth keeping in mind that divison among Christians is scandalous, and therefore objectively evil. Of course God can and does work much good even in the midst of evil, but if a group’s sincere, sane beliefs are “wrong,” we have to wonder about the source of that wrongness. I don’t think it’s off the mark to point to the father of lies.peace,pritcher

  • Interesting point Pritcher. Calling each other not only crazy but evil does raise the temperature somewhat….

  • DGus

    Father:You say: “you make my point. Without an agreed external authority one can only, in the end, say to the other person, ‘Well I think you’re just wrong.'” Now you really ARE being crazy, or making me crazy.1. This was NOT your point. You make that point often enough, but this time we were talking about a different point of yours–viz., whether the RCC must be insane or evil or else correct in its clain to be the unique true Church. The discussion about an external authority is another point.2. I didn’t say “I think you’re just wrong.” I said you’re wrong. (“Mistaken” is what “Jack” actually said.) I’m not sharing my sentiment. I’m making an objective assertion, based on an (unstated) agreed and acknowledged authority–the Scriptures. We could have that discussion about whether the Scriptures show what I imply that they show. But let’s not.

  • I think the reason Lewis’ “liar/lunatic/Lord” argument about Christ doesn’t transfer to the Church (“crazy/evil/true”) is because we don’t have a shared ecclesiology with Protestants, or a shared understanding of the link between soteriology and ecclesiology. It is a non sequitur for them because the post-Reformation definitions of “Church” point to spiritual realities only. Unless a person has a greater acceptance of incarnational and sacramental theology, and a greater awareness of the Church Visible, such arguments may be premature. Lewis would probably not accept the application of the crazy/evil/true argument to ecclesiology because he would debate your premise: the meaning of “Church.”

  • And also with you is on target. good observationsDGUs…the reason your ‘objective’ Bible verse won’t do as authoritative on its own is because I might have a different interpretation than you do.Indeed, in my discussions with Evangelicals, when I support the Catholic case from Scripture their reply is most often, “Yes, but that is just one interpretation.”When they do so, they make my own point that their only authority is personal opinion. It is impossible for them to say, “This is what the Church teaches…”

  • Anonymous

    Sorry to beat a dead horse, but I do have a problem with Father Christmas in Narnia since Aslan is an alternate world Christ and therefore the concept of Christmas in a world without either our understanding of Christ or the Mass struck me as odd.However the stories are wonderful.Dean

  • Dear DL,I apologize for being so late to this discussion. I must say, it is very engaging.Is it not God’s will that there be divisions in the Church, that there be schisms? I believe you make a mistake in your argument with deutero-Lewis. You said:‘Logically, therefore, if some rooms are more true than others, there must be one room which is most true, no?’The answer, of course, is no. If some rooms are more true than others, all one can say — at best — is that some rooms are more true than others. Several rooms could be “equally” true: three rooms could be equally “more true,” and thus, “most true.” Of course, I have no idea what “more true” even means. Are we wondering about mere quantity, i.e., who has the most truths? Or are we discussing quality, i.e., who has the best truths? If we start with your premise, logic compels us to note that it is possible for two or three or even ten rooms to have as many truths as any other. Thus, they would all be rather equally true. And I can quite imagine that there are several rooms each with one really decent but different truth; such singular truths might be especially helpful. Analogically speaking, it might all be a bit like a set of travel guides: not a few are filled with fascinating and true facts about Paris (for example); while only a couple have details on how to actually get to that dreamy city of lights and love. And then there are those tracts that tell you what to do when you finally get there. If indeed the Father’s house is filled with many rooms, then we must assume that the rooms are not all the same rooms. What a boring domicile it would be if this were so! Rooms have different functions, different furniture. Protocol and behavior is determined by the very nature of the room: one does not play games in the conservatory, but the parlor; one does not sing in the lavatory but the conservatory. The Christian faith is brilliantly presented in this model: we are all milling through a great house where protocols and expectations — even clothing — change from room to room. The problem, I believe, is when people STAY in one room, believing it to be the best, or “only,” or “most true” room. The informal breakfast nook is a glorious place to sit and worship God; the library is a great place for the academic Christian to sink his teeth into the Westminster Confession; the conservatory or the great room is a great place for incense and pageantry; the playroom is fine for blue jeans and a praise band. But the whole house is what matters. To live in one small corner, or even one large corner of so great a house might be comfortable, or fun, or even enlightening; but the fact of the matter would be quite plain: you’re stuck in one corner. God, I believe, would surely like for all of us to see what glories He has to offer outside our safe nooks and crannies.Moreover, the following statement of yours leaves me wondering. You said:‘…the non Catholic is right to say, “It seems to me” because he ultimately has no other authority but what seems right to him. The Catholic on the other hand, (at the risk Will) of sounding smug, is able to say, “The Church teaches…”‘This sounds very good, but it does indeed lead to a question. What is the Church? If the deutero-Lewis is indeed a Christian, if he is indeed a member of Jesus Christ’s sheepfold, is he not the Church also? I mean, is not saying “The Church teaches …” no different than saying “a broad collection of Christians teaches such and such?” Certainly prima facie it is no different at all. If Mr. Deutero believes and teaches what he says he does, and if he is indeed a member of Christ’s body; and if there is some support for his beliefs in hallowed scripture; and if a number of believers agree with him while gathered together in Christ’s name, is this not a teaching of the Church?I guess what I am getting at is that Mr. Deutero’s position is not entirely subjective: he is not merely appealing to himself. And your position is not solely objective: you submit to the magesterium based on a subjective interpretation that the authorities of the Church are trustworthy, and you trust yourself to understand what this all means, and to properly assent to truth handed down. I am wondering, D. Besides God, who else would be able to know certainly and authoritatively whether you’ve submitted to Church teaching? Only you, no?Lastly, one might indeed accept the doctrinal decisions of a particular council and yet reject others made by that same council. I adore my wife, but I don’t accept every decision she makes, nor does she accept every one of mine. My wife is often right, totally right; but her infrequent mistakes do not negate her rightness, nor do they tempt me to reject her in toto.I accept the resurrection of Christ based on the written and even the oral proclamation of Sts. Matthew, Peter and John, but I do not read (or hear) any of these men pronouncing with any fanfare at all that Mary was born sinless. The gospels are filled from prologue to epilogue with pronouncements of great mysteries, and yet fall curiously silent, or nearly silent, about an alleged miracle of birth that preceded Jesus’ by years. The Immaculate Conception is deemed so sacred in Ineffablis Deus that it is written therein that ‘Hence, if anyone shall dare — which God forbid! — to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should dare to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he thinks in his heart.’ But one would think that this teaching would be treated with some candor in the New Testament. One would also think that even the simplest reading of the Gospels would reveal a hint of the incredible severity connected with denial of this dogma: that there is no absolution for those who merely doubt this Marian teaching.My acceptance of Christ’s resurrection is indeed rooted in history, the very history of the Church handed to me through a variety of agents. (Curiously, some of those agents are not even parts of the body of Christ.) But there is still faith in all of this: there is something subjective going on: I — the subject — TRUST SOMETHING, and part of what I trust is my self’s ability to analyze, investigate, query and affirm. My faith is indeed placed in something historical, something real; but the some thing I believe, I do not believe purely on empirical or objective grounds. Plus, it is MY own experience that confirms the great Christian witness: Christ has risen indeed, and I have met him (or so I testify). Again, however, subjectivity is rampant in all of this. Any honest epistemologist knows that he can’t even prove his own self to his own self. There is something daring in the act of belief, and something willful.Perhaps, D., you have been given a special grace, a special dispensation, to believe in the one true Church. There are, however, a whole bunch of us whose faith is only the size of a mustard seed, tiny, unable to hold much. And yet what glories and wonders emerge from such small seeds, holding so little, hoping for so much. May they be blessed for holding anything at all. Peace to you, and forgive me for appearing to gang up on you. I will be quick to rally to your defense should a trumpet blare. We are, or so I believe, on the same side. May you see signs and wonders before the Gates of Glee,BG

  • BG, you are not, by any chance, one of the famed singing group…Thanks for your long and interesting post. A couple of comments:To be sure, the Catholic Church embraces as brothers and sisters those who are are baptized and have faith in Christ, but who are outside the full communion of the Catholic Church. We believe in what non Catholic Christians would call the ‘invisible church’–that the Body of Christ includes all those, living and dead, who belong to Christ, who are known by God alone.As it most things we affirm what you affirm. We do not deny what you deny. And in this case what we also affirm is that there is also a visible church–a church that really is defined and identified in history. A Church, which by the facts of history and demographics really is greater, older and more universal than the others. A church with more doctors, more saints, missionaries and martyrs; a church that strides by God’s grace over the last 2000 years as a giant that dwarfs all the others. We really do believe that this church was established by Christ on the Rock of Peter and that the gates of hell will not prevail against it. You will forgive us, I hope, for taking this gospel truth so openly at face value. We admit ourselves that it would be infinitely more comfortable to believe only in an ‘invisible church’ but this would not be the fullness of the truth.One may quibble about the logic of ‘more true’ or ‘less true’ or ‘equally true’ but then one simply has to look at the facts. Of course one has to look at all the facts and deal honestly with the human errors, inconsistencies and tragedies of this church.Does God will for there to be 50,000 churches? I doubt it. Christ says clearly that there will be ‘one flock and one shepherd’. He prays passionately for unity in John 17 and the apostles condemn roundly sins against the unity of the body. Within the Catholic Church itself one can find all the variety of expression that you rightly praise.About the Immaculate Conception. I do not have time to go into this in detail. Suffice it to say that this was one of my own problems before conversion to the Catholic Faith. I can, but will not at this time argue the point. The book i have written with fellow commentator on this blog DGus is recommended…Instead I will suggest a couple of things: First, if one really wants to understand this strange doctrine of ours and why we dare to make such a thing de fide, then one must approach it with an open mind and with the view that all enquirers should have when confronted with a new belief, that it might be right and they might be wrong. This approach to any enquiry is far more fun and risky and exciting than to simply poke something new with scepticism. I encourage you to view the doctrine (If you care to do so) trying to see how and why it might be right rather than trying to prove how and why it might be wrong.Secondly, whether we are professional theologians or lay people enquiring after truth, we are all obliged to pray our theology. If we have doubts about a particulary Catholic dogma why not simply ask the Lord? “Lord, surely this Immaculate Conception thing isn’t true? But if it is, open my heart, enlighten my mind and help me not only to understand, but to accept. AMEN.”Now there is a daring way to approach the whole matter no?Go ahead. I dare you!Yours in dynamic charity,DL

  • Dear Father,Merry Christmas to you, dear sir.You state several things that are true about Church unity. Both Christ and the apostles did hope that the Church would be one. But we also know two other things. First, we know that the Kingdom of God is a field sown with wheat and tares; both grow together, their roots entwined, their source of nourishment the well-fed soil. Only the end of time brings about the harvest — and the great separation. This is central to Christ’s teaching about His Kingdom this side of things. Second, the Apostle Paul, no small saint, said this in I Corinthians 11:18-19:“In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.” NIVIn the New American Bible, the passages are no less startling: 18 First of all, I hear that when you meet as a church there are divisions among you, and to a degree I believe it; 19 there have to be factions among you in order that (also) those who are approved among you may become known.It should be noted that the most important words here are the Greek words for our schism and sect (or heresy [KJV]), scismata and hairesis, respectively. So, I am not sure one can say with complete confidence that it is not God’s will that there be divisions among Christians. St. Paul seems to believe that such schisms reveal on whom God’s favor lies. With that said, I wonder if the Church is indeed as whole as we might think. But even if it is, we must still make a decision; we must seek to discern who it is among us that brings the truth, and who does not. As for me, I’ve been on the RC pilgrimage since 1984. My wife was raised Catholic; she and I attend services at the local parish. I have not yet been received into the Roman Church; I cannot enter until I accept the IC. I have studied the IC fairly well; I have listened to many fine men defend it, from Scott Hahn to Tom Howard to you. I find it curious that the language of “Ineffabilis Deus” is so strong regarding the acceptance of the IC, and yet there are many Catholics in good standing who differ with their brethren about the ultimate status of Mary. JP II very much adored the Holy Mother, yet others feel quite comfortable accepting her as the Mother of the Faithful but not elevating her to the position of co-redemptrix as the “fifth and final” Marian dogma. While the Vox Populi Mariae Mediatrici petitioned JP II to so declare Mary, other Catholics have been less vigorous in their defense of her high place. Am I wrong about this? Is not the RC Church not one bit divided over Mary’s full place in salvation history? Is it, in your opinion, possible for me to believe that Mary is indeed the Second Eve, that she is indeed the Mother of God, that she is indeed the Ark of the Covenant, that she is indeed the Mother of the Faithful, and yet not believe that she was conceived without sin or that her virginity remained intact? Is it possible for me to believe that Christ did not begin His ministry until His mother urged Him to; that Mary tells us all to do whatever He says, and yet not believe that she ascended to heaven in bodily form? Is it possible for me to believe that all generations shall indeed call Mary blessed not because she was conceived differently, or that she never knew a man (what is unsacred about intercourse?), but because she was chosen to be the Mother of the Lord? For me, the perpetual virginity of Mary is rooted in the idea that sexual intercourse is a corruption. I cannot for the life of me understand what lesson God wants me to glean from the idea that during vaginal birth Mary’s hymen remained intact — as if a torn hymen is some sort of corruption — or that the pains of childbearing, typical for all other women who participate as proto-eves in the great sacramental mysteries of bearing new life through pain, should be somehow different for Mary. But there is more to say on this matter, much more, but I won’t mention them here. I will merely stipulate that if Mary did indeed have OTHER children, then we might be rushed with all sorts of folks claiming special charisms as direct descendants of the Mother of God (the “Da Vinci Code” comes to mind). As for your challenge regarding openness, I find it a bit presumptuous. I have been open to Catholic teachings for a very long time. My honesty, however, can’t permit me to hide that the IC has become a harder dogma for me to accept the longer I think about it; I was more open when I knew less than I do now. I am not saying, Dwight, that I intend to reject the IC. I have simply found, thus far, the arguments for the conception of Mary and her perpetual virginity to be unconvincing, and even superfluous. And yet I will indeed call her blessed, full of grace, and the most important woman in the history of the Church. She is, indeed, my mother. And I am her son. But she is a mother who tells me to listen — not to her — but to my Brother. I bid you a blesséd Christmas. I pray it is especially wonderful for you, now that you can fully serve out your priestly vows in the full standing of the Great Church.Peace,BG (a tenor, no doubt, but not one alongside Barry Gibb)

  • Dear Bill, My plea for you to be open to the IC was based on my ignorance of your already profound study of the subject. I apologize.Two things briefly: Church unity: your reference to the parable of wheat and tares implies a certain unity within the field. Both wheat and tares are growing together in one field…not many different fields. Anyway, it is clear from the passage is it not, that the field is the world…and not the church?That St Paul says their shall be schism among you to prove who is faithful may actually speak strongly against schism. In other words, those who have split off had to do so to show that they were not of the church. This is certainly the view of most of the apostolic fathers. Schism is necessary not to show the wonderful variety of the Church, but to show who is out.As for the IC, I can only suggest two things: 1. Perhaps you are trying to understand too much with your head and not enought with your heart. The way I came ’round was not with a sudden (or gradual) intellectual understanding, but through a religious experience. I went into the Cathedral at Caen in Normandy not believing in the IC and came out believing. I hadn’t been wrestling with it particularly, but when I looked back I had been praying the rosary in the chapel of St Bernadette.The whole reason for your getting stuck on the IC may just be that another faculty other than your purely intellectual reasoning may need to kick in. It may be that you are using the wrong tools an therefore getting the wrong result.This may be why, like the anonymous fellow in one of my recent posts, some people need to simply get so far and then give the religious assent necessary…trust the Church, trust the authority and go with it.Admittedly, this takes a certain amount of sky diving panache, but hey, what’s faith? We walk by faith not by sight. We walk by trust not by proof. We walk by love not by pure reason in everything else in christianity. Why not this doctrine of all things?By the way, I am not therefore advocating a non-intellectual, subjective approach…only saying that faith and reason help each other.I know there is much more to discuss and this is not the forum.I thank you for your honest and intelligent post. I admire your seeking heart, and invite you to continue the discussion by email if you wish.

  • David Deavel

    Bill Gnade,I just want to say I appreciated your TOUCHSTONE article some months back on really asking God for things with a question mark.With Fr. Longenecker, I encourage you to perhaps explore Mary from another avenue than simply intellectual. We don’t come to understand God as Trinity strictly through the intellect, so why would we any other teaching? And be careful when you say that her perpetual virginity denigrates sexuality: fasting doesn’t denigrate food; nor does celibacy denigrate sex–both point to the reality that both are good gifts of God that still pale in comparison to the Giver himself. (You might look at Fr. Raniero Cantalamesa’s little book on celibacy from Pauline Media books–this helped me when on my journey to Rome). I will say a prayer for you.