Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Roman Sect

Maybe I shouldn't hammer on Al Kimel so much. But after years of watching the Anglican-to-infallibility conversions I've gotten really tired of the same old contradiction.

In his latest "burn my bridges behind me" attack on his old church, he ends by calling Anglicanism a "sect". Well, shucks. According to the dictionary, the Roman church is a sect too-- which it is. Schism on the basis of theology breeds sects, and there is nothing more within the catholic tradition than breeding those sects. Somewhere along the line one has to grow up and admit that dogmatism leads to division-- and that this is neither good nor bad, but just the way things must be.

Or must be, if we cannot all agree. That's the rub. The hardest fact for the Catholic position is that the big differences (with the conspicuous exception of Arianism) are not going away. One would expect that if human mental effort were even relevant to the matter, one would see the "faulty" positions fall away; but they do not. Instead, Catholicism-- even the word itself-- is coupled to strategies of escaping from the intellectual criticism of one's opponents.

So now we have two big infallible sects: Catholicism, and Orthodoxy. And you know, I don't care. Al says:
One of the reasons I became Catholic was the ability of the Catholic Church, as expressed in Lumen Gentium, both to assert her exclusive catholicity and to affirm the catholic elements found in particular Churches and ecclesial communities outside her canonical boundaries.
But every sect has that ability. It's the plausibility of the assertion that counts, and plausibility is, by its nature, subjective.

The biggest hole in all of this is the amnesia of our many personal histories in this. Since Al is now denying that, by virtue of his priestly office, I ever received grace from his hand, I'm faced with, on the one hand, his and my apparent faith, and its central role in motivating any positive relationship with any church, and on the other, his adoption of a theology which denies efficacy to that faith. It's the same old story I've seen dozens of time: in order to protect his personal judgements from his old church, he picks a new church under whose infallible aegis he can tuck his old faith. The only defense it then requires is that of ratifying his rejection of where he was, a defense it provides by virtue of its claims to infallibility. But what good is one's personal rejection anyway? Catholically, none at all. If the only intellect that can be trusted is that of the magisterium, then they have nothing to say to me. If the only intellect that can be trusted is that of the church fathers, then they have nothing to say to me. Argue with me, and you have conceded some efficacy to my intellect.

In comments to Al's article, one Perry Robinson said:
Going from last to first, the branch theory is implausible because it is ad hoc.
That's about as reasonable as saying the same thing of natural science (and in the latter case, it is an accurate "criticism"). If the church is real, then surely really touching it, hearing it, seeing it, and knowing it trumps ecclesiological theorizing about it. My big problem with Anglicanism is that, after seemingly touching the church in it, I now find big problems in it myself. But what the Catholic position is telling me about my life thus far is self-refuting. If I never touched the church where I was, then I'm basically forced to the conclusion that there is no church, because in the Roman Catholic Church I personally do not touch the church.

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