In the fall of 1994 Regent University dedicated its Law and Government Building. At the time the exective director of the American Centre for Law and Justice (ACLJ)–which is housed in this building–was Keith Fournier, a major figure in the Catholic Charismatic renewal. Fournier was passing out copies of his then new book, A House United? Evangelicals and Catholics Together. This subject was too intriguing to let lie so, after returning from the dedication, I wrote a long letter to him on the subject of the Catholic Church. Since this issue is a very real “burr in the saddle” to many, I have chosen to include it on this site. Originally written in 1994, I first posted it in 2006.
The letter pretty much speaks for itself, although familiarity with the book is helpful. I have done some editing to make it suitable for an online, public forum and either incorpoarted or eliminated the footnotes. I added the hyperlinks, as many of the issues the letter alludes to are covered elsewhere on the site.
Fournier never answered this letter. The letter poses some difficult questions that most Catholic apologists don’t like to deal with. However, things are never simple with this institution; both syncophancy and blind hostility obscure the real nature of the Catholic Church, its strengths and its weaknesses.
One item anticipated in the letter that has already taken place is the death of John Paul II and the election of Benedict XVI as his successor. John Paul’s stacking of the College of Cardinals with conservatives headed off election of a real liberal. And since he is elderly, how long his papacy will last–and thus the time to the next conclave, when the nail biting begins again–is a serious question.
It was a real pleasure for my wife and I to meet you during the recent dedication of the Law and Government Building.
One of the items we received was a copy of your book, A House United? Evangelicals and Catholics Together. In addition to setting forth an agenda for cooperation that is long overdue, it was especially relevant for me because I have been on both sides of this divide and have given a lot of thought concerning its meaning. I hope that the following is helpful to you in perhaps another view of this situation.
There should be no question that people who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior should be able to work together on questions of public policy. If we as Americans are not committed to establishing a state church of any kind, then we should have no difficulty in promoting a common agenda. Your book is a forthright affirmation of that and you have verbalized many things that many people are afraid to say, and moreover things that many Protestants wouldn’t say for a variety of reasons.
In the course of your book, you brought up many things about your experience that for me brought back a lot of memories. I was raised in the Episcopal Church; however, as a senior in prep school, I converted to the Roman Catholic Church. This began an eleven year (with one important break) spiritual adventure, which led me to the Baptism in the Holy Spirit through the Catholic Charismatic renewal. It also led me into a difficult situation with the Church because of both indifference and hostility to this renewal. After going through the split of our prayer group (over devotions to Mary; this was started by a classic Pentecostal who believed that Mary was the Holy Spirit,) the tremendous experience of our youth group with the three trips to the Youth Conference in Steubenville, and the agony of the attack on the youth, the Church had, to paraphrase Pascal, put my patience to the limit in all areas. So when the opportunity came, I welcomed the chance to escape this situation.
I don’t view this departure as a “bridge burning” act, and over the years I have reflected extensively on my experience as a Roman Catholic, and I would now like to pass on some of those reflections, certainly not for a polemic but as an alert for difficulties that are a) common to both Catholics and Protestants and b) especially important in view of the internal situations that Catholics face in their Church.
The first one is liberalism. In 1982 Ralph Martin wrote an excellent book entitled A Crisis of Truth, which documented the encroachments of liberal and pagan thinking and methodology in the Catholic Church. I don’t think that matters have improved much since then. But there are two important observations that I want to make about this situation.
The first concerns the present Pope, John Paul II. He has done more than anyone to check liberalism’s spread in the Catholic Church. As long as he presides in Rome, liberalism’s possibilities of taking over Roman Catholicism are limited, although local situations are another matter. But when he goes to be with the Lord the situation becomes dangerous. Every conclave since Vatican II has been a white knuckle event in this regard. The next one will be no exception. Most Protestants don’t understand this situation.
The second concerns the possibility of responding to this kind of thing on a local level. In some Protestant denominations (the Southern Baptists come to mind,) people concerned about this have campaigned vigorously to change their church. In the Catholic Church, and especially in the U.S., there is a reticence to attempt such a campaign. For me, the greatest disappointment of the Catholic Charismatic renewal was its unwillingness to really pursue the matter of liberalism after such a strong statement as A Crisis of Truth. In 1983, I attended the Leadership Conference in Steubenville; I think that this book was brought up only once during the whole conference.
In retrospect, the reason for this unwillingness was rather simple. Most of the leadership of the renewal were also leaders of covenant communities. In their communities they had spent a lot of time instilling a Gothardian view of authority into the members , and they were in turn unwilling to challenge the leadership of the Church. But such things are the stuff of history; the present question is, what will evangelical Catholics do when they are faced with the choice between truth and authority again? And how will such choices impact their work and cooperation in matters of public policy and engaging the culture?
My second point is probably best illustrated by a chapter of French history. King Louis XIII had a disturbed personality which made for a fear filled and unloving life. Now, as you know, the Catholic Church has taught for the longest time that, to be in a state of grace, one must be truly contrite. Central to true contrition is the fact that the believer loves God, in accordance with Jesus’ express command. A frequent precursor to contrition is attrition, which is the state where the believer simply fears God and the punishment of hell without loving him. Although attrition can be a necessary step in a person’s road to God, it is not sufficient; only contrition, and with it loving God, is enough for an individual to be in a state of grace and to have a) their sins truly forgiven and b) to have Christ really indwelling in him or her.
Needless to say, Louis XIII had a hard time with contrition. So his chief political advisor, Cardinal Richelieu, simply told him that attrition was sufficient to obtain grace. The King’s confessor, Fr. Caussin, was outraged at this, and was rewarded for this by being exiled to Quimper in Brittany. Many others were outraged too, and it was this last group that became the main protagonists in the Jansenist movement, a movement formally begun by a Belgian bishop named Cornelius Jansenus who wrote a book called the Augustinus. On the other side were the Jesuits, some of whom were busy coming up with their opinions probables concerning such things as how late one could come to Mass without committing mortal sin, how it could be justified to kill another in a duel to preserve one’s honour, etc..
The Jansenist movement took deep root in France with its emphasis on moral conduct and a higher walk with God. Pascal underwent a dramatic conversion experience;there were others, and miracles on top of that. Pierre Goubert tells us in his Louis XIV and Twenty Million Frenchmen:
When historians discover and examine the catalogs belonging to libraries of the period they are continually surprised at the amount of space allotted to the devotional and doctrinal works of the Jansenists. Even Saint-Cyran and the Bible de Port-Royal might be found among the merchant’s books, along with the Ordonnance du Commerce and handbooks on practical accounting…Jansenism…had become one of the greatest currents of French thought. It had moved out from its close, Parisian circle to take root in the remotest provinces and even to make contact with the great mass of the faithful. Such a success was acceptable neither to the Jesuits nor the king’s Government…
…and so these last two, through a long campaign of intimidation and brute force (even the Janesnists’ center at Port-Royal des Champs was physically flattened and the ground plowed up,) the movement was suppressed.
In your book, you make frequent mention of the French Revolution and its atheistic objectives. It is my belief that, if Janesnism and other movements of personal renewal were allowed to flower in France, the French Revolution would either have never have taken place or have been more like the American in nature, in other words more centered around the Creator and not around the creation. The American Revolution was preceded by the Great Awakening, but such a movement in France had already been dispatched.
But now I must get to the bottom of my second point. The central purpose of the Jesuits’ opinions probables were done to make Catholic morality acceptable to a wider variety of people, and especially those at the top of society such as Louis XIV. Pierre Nicole, in his introduction to Pascal’s Provinciales, put it this way, in words which are chillingly prophetic of the relativistic ways of our own time:
It is known that, strictly speaking, the main objective of the Jesuits is neither to corrupt the morals of Christians nor is to reform them; but to attract everyone by presenting an accommodating way of life. Because people have all kinds of personalities, they are obliged to have maxims of all kinds to satisfy them; on account of this they end up with different rules of conduct for different people, and so they are forced to change the true rule of morals, which is the Gospel and the tradition, for both of these are in the same spirit. For this they substitute another rule which is flexible, diverse, satisfactory to everyone, and which can take any shape, and this is what they call the doctrine of probability.
One of the difficulties in working within the Catholic Church is having to battle people whose main objective is to “go with the flow” and make Catholicism as acceptable to many people (and especially important people) as possible, whether what they are saying is in accord with either the Word of God or with the traditional teaching of the Church. The Catholic Church claims the truth lives in the Catholic Church;the important question is, is she now or will she shortly be under house arrest? This relates to the matter of liberalism as well.
Having made these two distressing points, let me say that most Protestant critics of Catholicism would not put it in this way. If we go past ignorance, the main reason they don’t is because both of these conditions are routinely replicated in Protestant churches. Protestants have fought and in many cases lost the battle with liberalism. Playing to the lowest common denominator–a powerful force behind the spread of liberalism–is not restricted to the Catholic Church; it is a part of our human condition. This last point is especially serious in the Roman Catholic church because the Catholic church is very large and influential. Additionally, serious Catholics have a high view of the authority of the Church and feel the need to follow it wherever it goes (as was the case with the leaders of the Catholic Charismatic renewal in the late 1970’s.)
I have spent a lot of time on these matters;let me make a few specific comments about the book.
- I am really glad to see that Thomas Aquinas’ place in Christian theology is being affirmed by Catholics and Evangelicals alike. In college I spent a lot of time on the side wading through his Disputed Questions on Truth and Summa Theologiae. Thomas’ analytical skills and common sense are desperately needed in Christian theology these days.
- It would be a worthwhile project to define a universe of Christian writers and thinkers edifying to Catholics and Evangelicals alike. I would get into this in more detail but it would be too long a business for this letter.
- In the statement itself, it states that one of the standing differences between Catholics and Evangelicals is “The Lord’s supper as Eucharistic sacrifice or memorial meal.” It seems to me that the statement has (perhaps in the interest of brevity) conflated two questions into one, namely a) whether Christ is really present in the elements of the Eucharist and b) whether the Eucharist is a sacrifice. These are separate questions and need to be considered as such.
- As far as people such as Dave Hunt are concerned, perhaps the best advice comes from Pope Leo the Great. About 450 he wrote a letter to Rusticus, a bishop in what is now southern France. Rusticus was having quite a lot of trouble with many of his church people who, unhappy with his performance, were hounding him with their mouths. Rusticus was ready to quit, but Leo responded with the following:
But I am surprised, beloved, that you are so disturbed by opposition in consequence of offenses, from whatever cause arising, as to say you would rather be relived of the labors of your bishopric, and live in quietness and ease than continue in the office committed to you. But since the Lord says, “blessed is he who shall persevere unto the end,” whence shall come this blessed perseverance, except from the strength of patience? For as the Apostle proclaims, “All who would live godly in Christ shall suffer persecution.” And it not only to be reckoned persecution, when sword or fire or other active means are used against the Christian religion;for the direst persecution is often inflicted by nonconformity of practice and persistent disobedience and the barbs of ill-natured tongues: and since all the members of the Church are always liable to these attacks, and no portion of the faithful are free from temptation, so that a life of either of these nor of labor is devoid of danger, who shall guide the ship amidst the waves of the sea, if the helmsman quit his post? Who shall guard the sheep from the treachery of wolves, if the shepherd himself be not on the watch? Who, in fine, shall resist the thieves and robbers, if love of quietude draw away the watchman that is set to keep the outlook from the strictness of his watch? One must abide, therefore, in the office committed to him and the task undertaken. Justice must be steadfastly upheld and mercy lovingly extended. Not men, but their sins must be hated. The proud must be rebuked, the weak must be borne with;and those sins which require severer chastisement must be dealt with in the spirit not of vindictiveness but of desire to heal. And if a fiercer storm of tribulation fall upon us, let not be terror stricken as if we have to overcome the disaster in our own strength, since both our Counsel and our Strength is Christ, and through him we can do all things, without him nothing, who, to confirm the preachers of the Gospel and the ministers of the mysteries, says, “Lo, I am with you all the days even to the consummation of the age.” And again he says, “these things I have spoken unto you that in me ye may have peace. In this world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, because I have overcome the world.” The promises, which are as plain as they can be, we ought not to let any causes of offense to weaken, lest we should seem ungrateful to God for making us his chosen vessels, since his assistance is powerful as his promises are true.
- You discussed the situation in Eastern Europe. Having spent some time in Russia, this is a topic that needs discussion which is independent of our situation here. The basic problem in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union is that the general concept of religious freedom hasn’t advanced since the days of Avvakum .
- You mentioned the appearance of the King of Finland at the Vatican. Finland is a republic, and has been since its independence from Russia in 1917. The Lutheran Church is certainly the state religion in Finland and is supported by tax Finnish marks.
Finally, attached to this letter is an article I wrote for the National Forum of the Phi Kappa Phi. It was my contribution to the engagement of the culture. Unfortunately it suffered in severe editing and adverse reactions in a fraternity that is heavily larded with educators.
Well I think that I have gone on long enough. I wrote this neither to condemn nor to depress but to educate and edify, and I pray that it has done both. We appreciate very much the hard work that you and the rest have done at the ACLJ and believe that your work will reap rewards in this life and in eternity. May God richly bless you and we look forward to seeing you again when we come to CBN.