* I penned this some years ago but include it now, as this month invites us to come together as Christians and minimize those barriers that often stand in the way of our unity.
Finding myself in varied conversation with my ever trendy lady friend one day, I mentioned that a common acquaintance of ours proved devoutly Catholic. A sudden aghast expression crossed her lovely face as she passionately inquired “He’s Catholic? I thought Catholicism was out of vogue!” as though social acceptance determined the validity of spiritual faith.
Nevertheless, how right she was! One of the first points in Dr. Greg Jackson’s groundbreaking book The Word and it’s Witness: The Spiritualization of American Realism argues that while other religions exist in America, the most academically influential prove the mainstream Protestant denominations. Even the more universally encompassing The Social Life of Scriptures edited by James Bielo chooses as its subjects predominately Protestant movements, and we find a considerable decline in the focus on the Roman Catholic Church. How did the erstwhile universal powerhouse dwindle to its present state and why should we as a Judeo Christian community take notice of this comparative decrescendo?
Within the English speaking society, much of the alteration from Catholicism to Protestantism arose from King Henry VIII of England. His expulsion of Papal Rule stemmed not from a classically moral argument but in order to follow his own lust and personal ambition to beget a son by the unyielding Anne Boleyn. After outlawing Papal authority and by executing his long sought Anne he threw open the windows and doors of religious chaos through the opposing reigns of his daughters, the Catholic Mary and Protestant Elizabeth. In essence, the blood he spilled continued to mount into a thrashing crimson tempest of bloodshed that fully saturated the whole of English streets and eventually created in England a primarily Protestant nation.
It was in this state that the British Empire exploded throughout the world and thus the tendency toward Protestantism grew and expanded to such an extent that “the sun never set” on this manner of thinking. The Puritan emigration to the New World took this concept to greater heights with the goal of worshipping God outside not only Catholicism but Anglicanism as well. This connection between personal freedom and Protestantism cemented itself in America which created for Catholicism a stronger social stigma of stagnation.
But though the original organization has undoubtedly fallen in numbers and political power it would serve us within the Judeo Christian framework to recall the foundation we inherited through the more than one thousand years of its continual European reign. In our fast paced society, focused so entirely on instant answers and immediate gratification it behooves the contemplative mind and humble follower of God to remember that this single organization kept alive the New Testament against overwhelming odds, preserving them through a millennium without computers, printers and the like, and carrying the idea of Jesus Christ through mass murders of early Christians in the Roman coliseums and general persecution. It stepped up to the plate armed with faith and reckless devotion to God and spread the message of Christianity through whispers in catacombs and by secretive symbolism on peril of human life. It was the early Christians’ unabashed love of their God that steeped their courage to continue relatively alone as the apostles dropped one by one from the earth in martyrdom and the world plunged headlong into the Dark Ages.
There are many, I recognize, who will cite the various corruptions of the Church from the Crusades to the Inquisitions, Indulgences and several other accounts and hold these as sufficient reason to despise and degrade Catholicism in general, denouncing it as a wholly corrupt entity but let me answer this argument in a brief sentence. What organization made of imperfect human beings with complete control over an ignorant population will not have individuals within it that will seek to take advantage of the absolute power they hold? We have learned through sad experience that this is not confined to the organization in question or even to greater Christendom. It is a fact of human nature that some people prove ultimately culpable but we cannot assume that the actions of some ruling parties reflect the essential doctrines of the scriptures by which the greater number of followers honestly seek to abide.
Indeed, we find similar moments within Protestant history as well. Let us for a moment consider the notorious Salem witch trials or the Anti Catholic Gordon Riots in London. Protestantism, as far as it has had the opportunity to be so, has proven equally violent as Catholicism in its own proportion.
So what is the purpose and importance of a study of this hue? What does it behoove persons outside Catholicism to comprehend and weigh these matters? Certainly the interdenominational bigotry among many Protestants may temper itself remarkably in acceptance of the fact that all Protestantism arises from the Western Catholic Church. It renders us a common motherhood and ancestry within our religious sphere. Indeed, without Catholicism there would be no Protestantism. Let us recognize therefore that we all worship a mutual God but confine ourselves, generally speaking, to our own conclusions and methods of worship. It also behooves us as individuals to recognize that we have no solid intellectual ground for demonizing an organization in its entirety by the actions of a few members. All human organizations, like all human souls, hold imperfect constituents interspersed with divine virtues, and demonizing either an organization or a human for relative frailties does the seeker of greater virtue no spiritual favors.
If our true and honest aim is to emulate the Savior we profess to worship, would it not prove advantageous to sheath our weapons of proud contention and rather seek to lift where we stand? Perhaps we might recall that people are as diverse as denominations and we might well learn from our neighbors’ various strengths. Some argue that we each hold the responsibilities of missionary work and therefore cannot afford to harbor such pacifistic respect. Is not quiet gentleness, human kindness, and love unfeigned more resonating than a thousand hellfire sermons? As I have often experienced, sincere investigators will come to us if we softly abide by the New Testament precepts of charity and service.
I have sometimes received expressions of confusion and reprimands bordering accusations of blasphemy for my continual defense of religions outside my own; yet those times I freely discuss my personal testimony of God, though my voice be hushed, one can virtually hear a pin drop for the effect I find it generally has in its hearers. That is the power of personal conviction and once we have it, it frees us to openly defend and even promote interests of another religion with a greater respect for other human beings as they are and not as we would make them. In short, my convictions are so steadfast and unshakable that I feel no need to compete against or degrade other faiths and can openly and easily harbor greater respect for convictions other than my own. I find that those who generally engage the loudest in bigotry and ignorance are those whose own testimony rests on a sandy foundation. The truth needs no defense. It will ultimately triumph and will do so under the hand of an Almighty God and all the human hysterics under heaven will not, and cannot change it. What remains is whether or not we in our own lives follow the counsel and command of the God we profess to adore and whether we will harbor in our own bosoms a clear conscience and quiet soul.