On Barbarism and Benedict

For those who have the courage to plunge headlong into the great sea of history, their minds accustomed to taking long views, the attractions of Protestantism are few and never fatal.   But for those who know nothing of the past, whose minds are unwilling to travel to such places, the allure of Protestant piety with its security blanket of Sola Scriptura thrown over everything, renders them peculiarly susceptible.

When John Henry Newman found himself immersed in the study of the Donatist controversy of the fourth century, he realized that by Augustine’s reckoning he too was in a state of revolt, having refused to heed the principle laid down by the Bishop of Hippo that it is not well for any man to separate himself from the secure and certain judgments of the whole world, i.e., the Catholic Church.  Securus judicat orbis terrarium, Augustine had thundered.   And why is that?  Because the judgments of the Church are both binding and everlasting.   And so the future Cardinal and now Blessed John Henry Newman, awakened by the grace of God amid wheel upon wheel of history, could no longer function in the Anglican church, membership in which having left him no less a schismatic in his relation to Rome than the Donatists had been fifteen hundred years before.  Thus he turned to the Church of Rome for the certainty of truth and holiness for which he had always longed.  “The Fathers made a Catholic of me,” he would exclaim years later.

Success in securing the various forms and permutations of Protestant religion, therefore, depends on keeping the levels of historical illiteracy as high as possible.  Allow but the slightest shaft of light to fall upon the early centuries of the Christian world and, straightaway, the scene is illumined by a blaze of Roman Catholic glory.  Indeed, to set out along the historical corridors of all that followed in the wake of the Church’s beginnings—from the founding of hospitals and monasteries, orphanages and universities, to the anointing of kings and princes—is to brush up continually against the sheer intractable fact of The Catholic Thing.  What else was there in a world where all the lights had gone out?  The world of high paganism could hardly be expected to preserve and protect its own patrimony.  During the ages of darkness that fell upon the Greco-Roman world, the centuries following its collapse and dissolution, someone had to baptize and convert the northern barbarians.  If the decent drapery of life (to recall Burke’s image) were not to be completely stripped away, leaving only untutored savages to manage the chaos, something would have to be done.  In a word, Rome became the culture of the West.

But who knows any of this stuff anymore?  Can there be many Catholics out there (besides faithful readers of Crisis), whose awareness of their faith includes an understanding of the whole historical matrix in which it took shape?  Who can provide an accurate plot line for all that amazing growth?  Does the average churchgoer know, for example, who St. Benedict was?  Or Martin of Tours?  What about Ambrose and Augustine, Popes Leo and Gregory the Great?   Have we taken the measure of the impact such men had in catechizing a culture that would last a thousand years?

“It is always dangerous,” warns Alasdair MacIntyre on the last page of After Virtue, a wonderful and provocative work that first appeared in 1981, “to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another.”  Nevertheless, he concedes, such parallels do in fact exist, on the strength of which it becomes all the more necessary for us to know something of these seminal figures and the far-reaching effect of their lives on the civilization they had a hand in creating.  This is especially true with Benedict, on whom MacIntyre concludes his book, reminding us that today’s world is waiting, “not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.”

So what do we know of this man for whom we are waiting?  About the age in which he lived, too, inasmuch as the wickedness of it is what first drove him as a boy of fourteen or fifteen to flee Rome for the fastness of a cave near Subiaco.  Whereupon the example of his sanctity would draw others to the same life of prayer and sacrifice so that, before long, an entire movement of monasticism had been loosed upon the world, the ultimate flowering of which being the public profession of the Catholic faith by the peoples of Europe.

We are obliged to study these things, it seems to me, not only to prevent ourselves from falling prey to Protestant theology, which knows nothing of history and, given its fundamentalist fixations, disdains those who do.  But because, as MacIntyre reminds us, new and even more sinister dark ages have arrived, against which we shall need to take up arms.  The lesson of Benedict can help show the way.  Especially since, this time around, “the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time.”   Our not knowing this, MacIntyre adds, “constitutes part of our predicament.”

And so, seizing upon the example of St. Benedict, who was he and what do the lineaments of his time and place offer to teach us?  Born near the end of the fifth century in Nursia, a town near enough to Rome to have felt the convulsive effects of its sack, in 410, by Alaric, the Visigothic King (the first time in eight centuries Rome had fallen), Benedict grew up in a world whose moorings had been completely uprooted.  (Less than a half-century after Alaric, the Vandals would finish the job he’d begun, leaving Rome looted and in ruins once more.)  Sent to Rome as a student, Benedict experienced first hand the trauma of its loss and, recoiling from its depravities, fled into the wilderness to pursue an undistracted life of union with God.

And there amid the prayer and the fasting and all that attend the struggle to obtain self-mastery, young Benedict made an important discovery, one which would enable him to become a great light upon an age whose descent into darkness could not to be dispelled in any other way.  He saw that by his very exertions to overcome himself, to draw nearer to God, to respond to those promptings of grace that Christ had come to dispense, the world that he’d fled was itself becoming a better and more wholesome place.  In other words, by turning his back on the world in order to turn his face to God, Benedict had become, quite unwittingly, an instrument of the world’s regeneration.

As if the world could only be saved by those who turn their backs upon it.   

Joined by others equally determined on a life of transforming intimacy with God, Benedict soon made his way to Monte Cassino, some eighty miles to the southeast of Rome, where, having demolished the altar of Apollo, he raised up his own altar, consecrating it to the glory of the God and Father of Jesus Christ.  Here the ideals of Benedictine life, enshrined in the famous Rule with its exhortation to ora et labora  (pray and work), were first struck.  “Turning the earth into a garden,” declared Cardinal Ratzinger back in 2000 (five years before assuming his namesake to become Pope Benedict XVI), “and the service of God (were) fused together and became a whole…. Worshipping God always takes priority…. But at the same time, it’s a matter of cultivating and renewing the earth in an ethos of worship…. Manual labor now becomes something noble … an imitation of the Creator’s work.  [And] along with the new attitude toward work comes a change in our ideas about the dignity of man.”

From such a modest outpost as this, never mind the titanic figure who organized and sustained it, a handful of monks would in due course set about the creation of the Christian West.  “At the touch of his mild inspiration,” writes Whittaker Chambers in a very moving essay on St. Benedict written more than sixty years ago, “the bones of a new order stirred and clothed themselves with life, drawing to itself much of what was best and most vigorous among the ruins of man and his work in the Dark Ages, and conserving and shaping its energy for that unparalleled outburst of mind and spirit in the Middle Ages.  For about the Benedictine monasteries what we, having casually lost the Christian East, now casually call the West, once before regrouped and saved itself.”

If it is not too late—and how fortunate for us that Mother Church continues to make provision for late conversions—then there is still time to revisit the life of this remarkable saint, whose moment in history remains uncannily like our own in its rapid and seemingly unstoppable descent into barbarism. And thus galvanized by his example, the exercise of which succeeded in evangelizing an entire continent, we too may confidently set about the re-conquest of those whose ancestors he and his monks first introduced to Christ.

To undertake this great work, however, it should not be necessary to enter a monastery, or even to move into a neighborhood where one or two may be found.   One is not required to scorn the world, nor the lawful pleasures thereof.  A spirit of detachment, after all, is the obligation of all, not the prerogative of a few.  We are Catholics, after all, not Cathars.

Like the vastness of the Bernini colonnade, whose arms reach out to embrace the whole world, the call to holiness is no less universal in its summons to all the baptized.   Bloom where you are planted, as they say.   Thus it follows that the only thing necessary will be for each of us to become that tiny little flame of sanctity, which even the violence and the chaos of the world cannot blow out.  And annealing ourselves thus to Christ, who is the world’s salvation, we may join with our wives and children, our neighbors and friends—and, yes, the stranger who wishes to become our brother—and learn once again to sing the Lord’s Song in a strange land.

Regis Martin


Regis Martin is Professor of Theology and Faculty Associate with the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. He earned a licentiate and a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. Martin is the author of a number of books, including Still Point: Loss, Longing, and Our Search for God (2012) and The Beggar's Banquet (Emmaus Road). His most recent book, also published by Emmaus Road, is called Witness to Wonder: The World of Catholic Sacrament. He resides in Steubenville, Ohio, with his wife and ten children.

  • publiusnj

    When I was in grammar school, we used to have a class every year separate from Catechism based on either Bible history (the 2000 years before Christ) or Church history (the next 1952-60 years). When I taught CCD, I covered that 4000 years in brief while also covering the CCD syllabus. The History of the Catholic Church is, I believe, the story of Christ’s continuing love for His people.

    One of the areas we Catholics don’t study enough is the Reformation. When we do, we usually look at issues like Sola Scriptura, but we rarely look at the equally important issue of cui bono? the Reformation led to lots of people benefitting, most of which gets passed over.

    Sure, we know that Henry VIII used the protestants’ ecclesiastical reservations (modified in light of his early defense of the Seven Sacraments) as a basis for his massive plundering of the Church, but how much study is ever done of what happened in the same way throughout Scandinavia and Navarre (by the monarchs), North Germany (by the dukes), Scotland (by the lairds) and in the lands of the Teutonic Knights (by their ex-abbot who converted their lands into the Duchy of Prussia and founded the Hohenzollern Dynasty)?

    As Regis Martin (and J.H. Newman before him) noted, ignorance of History….

  • Mitchell Kalpakgian

    A refreshing essay and a timely reminder that the salvation of the world will never come from government or from the prfessional elite but from humble beginnings and noble men and women who say “yes” to God and “no” to the world. This re-Christianizing of the West and the world must come from small places like families and schools who embrace God’s plan for the family and God’s purpose for the mind–to use it to seek the truth, love the truth, defend the truth, and suffer for the truth.

  • binks webelf
  • richard_fossey

    What a great essay. As Blessed John Henry Newman put it most succinctly, “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.”

    • John200

      Pitch perfect — Yes, that is the cure.

  • paridell

    We Protestants are not unaware of history. We just focus on the Reformation period, since that is when our predecessors tried to return to the simplicity of the early church. It might easily have been Martin Luther who said, “the barbarians have already been governing us for quite some time.”

    • TheAbaum

      it’s somewhat telling and fanciful to see “We protestants” as if there is some uniformity among them, because there is not. There is unanimity on one thing, and one thing only “anywhere but Rome” . So it is my lifelong Methodist in-law upon relocating (to the Southern US) was unable to find a UM Church, began attending a Baptist one. No need for any comprehensive or even significant doctrinal congruence, just a nice red door and a rejection of Rome.

      Your predecessors didn’t try to return to “return to the simplicity of the early church”, they sold their rebellion on an imagined simplicity that existed only in their minds.

      If simplicity was all that Luther was interested in, he could have joined some monastic order, but he didn’t, he remade a new community de novo on a bed of lies and novelties.

      Sola Fide was invented ex nihilo, and is directly contradicted by Scripture, including a very direct reference in the Book of James, which Luther reportedly said he wished he could burn. Sola Scriptura is an unmitigated disaster for unity, and a preview of this fractiousness was provided by Luther and Zwingli’s unresolved disagreements (We now have 30,000 denominations and counting). Nor was it any prophylaxis against theological novelty-attested to the fact that Mary Baker Eddy was raised a Congregationalist, Joseph Smith had some interest in Methodism, Charles Taze Russell was raised a Presbyterian.

      Even if I grant that some individuals were upset by Tetzel or something else, we are enjoined by Scripture to test all things, and judge things by results, not (inferred) intent by their fruits they shall be known.

      Now, on the eve of the 500th years since Luther nailed his theses, and Henry Tudor went on his murderous rampage, we can see one of those fruits arising from Luther’s and Henry’s reconfiguration of marriage as an affair of the state. That is rotten fruit.

      You may not be unaware of history, but you certainly dismiss anything before 1517, and take no responsibility for the 496 1/2 years since.

      • fredx2

        King Friday, is that you?

        • TheAbaum

          No, I’d be the trolley.

      • paridell

        Protestants dismiss anything before 1517? We do pay some attention to 1415, the year Jan Hus was burnt at the stake. Next year will be the 600th anniversary. But recriminations are pointless. As I say above, it’s really time to concentrate on what unites us, rather than what divides us.

        • ForChristAlone

          We we have had 50 years of this contrived ecumenism in which the Catholic Church tossed aside Her patrimony in an effort to be accommodationist. In the process, we risked losing our identity about what it means to be Catholic. We are just now beginning to recover it.
          Question: does what you say mean that Protestants acknowledge Peter’s authority for the first 1500 years of Church history? If not, give us the date when that ceased.

          • paridell

            I said that Protestants were not unaware of history, and I denied that Protestants dismiss “anything before 1517”. Does either of these statements imply that Protestants today acknowledge Peter’s authority (understood as Papal authority) in the first 1500 years of Church history? Well, some would, and some would not – just as some Catholics today recognise Papal authority, and some are sedevacantists. But I believe that most Protestants would agree that Papal authority was well recognised in the Western Church from the fifth century on, and that it continued to grow until the reign of Pope Boniface VIII in the thirteenth century. That Pope claimed authority over all of humanity. But by that time, Papal authority had long since been rejected by the Eastern Church, with the nasty affair of the mutual excommunications in 1054. Then came the first stirrings of the rejection of Papal authority within the Western Church, which led to the Reformation in the sixteenth century.

            As for the date when the recognition of Papal authority ceased, there is no single date, as the Reformation did not happen all at once. In England it was completed in 1536, but in Scotland not until the Reformation Parliament of 1560. Some say the Reformation was still working itself out in the mid-eighteenth century via movements such as Methodism.

        • TheAbaum

          “Protestants dismiss anything before 1517? We do pay some attention to 1415..”

          What else do you have that doesn’t involve some real or imagined grievance against the Church. Ever read Eusebius? Augustine?, Aquinas? Patristics is unknown among Protestants. Do you also pay attention to the day that Thomas More met his end?

          “But recriminations are pointless.”

          No, there’s a long overdue accounting. I’m so sick of Protestants telling me I worship Mary (I don’t) when they ignore her in gross violation of the admonition in Luke 1:48 and a myriad of other calumnies cast against the Church and her faithful.

          “it’s really time to concentrate on what unites us, rather than what divides us.”

          Syncretism alert. Once again, Protestants don’t agree among themselves, except on one thing (anywhere but Rome). Sola Scriptura is a recipe for division, and it remains a cornerstone of Protestantism.

          When I stop hearing so-called “Christian” radio stations discussing topics like Catholics aren’t Christian, then I’ll believe there’s a basis for unity.

          You call then “reformers”, I call then “deformers”.

          • paridell

            TheAbaum, Protestants are not the only ones who don’t agree among themselves. Since the Reformation, we have seen within the Catholic Church:

            * the rise of the Jesuits and their frequent suppression in various countries

            * the conflict between the Jesuits and the Jansenists in pre-Revolutionary France (and by the way, the Jansenists had read their Augustine)

            * the rise of ‘liberation theology’ (sometimes involving the Jesuits) and consequent confrontations with Rome

            * the conflict, now getting on for half a century, between progressive and conservative Catholics resulting from Vatican II. You are no doubt aware that there is a school of thought including Australia’s own Mel Gibson who do not recognise the legitimacy of any Pope since Pius XII.

            All this puts into perspective the relatively small disagreements between Catholics and Protestants. Note that I said relatively small, not non-existent. When I say we should focus on what unites us, I have in mind not syncretism, but doctrines such as: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth,” John 1: 14. A good beginning, I would say.

            • TheAbaum

              That’s not the same thing, in nature, scope or magnitude as 30,000 denominations, all claiming the authority of Scripture.

              • paridell

                It is exactly the same thing. The only difference is that all the disagreements I mentioned happened within the Catholic Church rather than outside it. After all, while a few Protestants still believe that the Pope is Antichrist, none of them believe that he is not the Pope. But there are Catholics who believe it.

                • TheAbaum

                  Christ had Judas.

                  And Aryanism, Jansenism all went away. Just as liberation theology will go away.

                  You will always have Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura, and have some novel mew doctrine to deal with, like rapture theology.

                  • paridell

                    Arianism, I think.

                    Things of this sort never really go away, you know. As Nicabrik says in Prince Caspian, “Who ever heard of a witch that really died? You can always get them back.”

                    (CS Lewis was a Protestant, by the way).

                    • TheAbaum

                      “Arianism, I think.”

                      I stand corrected. There were two noxious doctrines with that homophone.

                      CS Lewis was a Protestant, by the way.


                    • paridell

                      Why does it matter that CS Lewis was a Protestant? Well, he is frequently cited on this very website, which has described him as “perhaps the best known Christian apologist of the twentieth century”. This seems to me sufficient to demonstrate that, contrary to the condemnations issued above, Protestantism has something to offer. Secondly, Lewis’ example demonstrates the fallacy of the belief, also voiced above, that Protestants know no history. Lewis was the professor of Mediaeval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge and the author of “The Allegory of Love”, a scholarly work that is itself also often regarded as a Christian apologia. I think his knowledge of history, including the period of Benedict, would, shall we say, have passed muster.

                    • TheAbaum

                      You were the one that made the point that was Lewis was a Protestant, I asked “and”.

                    • paridell

                      The expression “And?” customarily implies, “What is your point?” I responded to “And?” in this sense, so you have your answer.

                      Or did you have some other meaning in mind? If so, better spell it out, as my “And?” thesaurus is all used up.

                    • TheAbaum

                      I have no idea what point if any you are trying to make.

                      This is your statement:

                      (CS Lewis was a Protestant, by the way).

                      Apparently, you find that important to say, but I wasn’t disputing it.

                    • paridell

                      My point is sufficiently made under my reply to you headed “Why does it matter that CS Lewis was a Protestant?”, above.

                      You then asked, with portentous brevity, “And?” To which I also gave a considered reply.

                      If you really have no idea what point I am making after that, well, so be it. But it does rather seem that you are displaying a preference not to know.

                    • TheAbaum

                      I’ve really tired of your inability to maintain some coherence in the this thread. This is boring me to tears, so take another two weeks and have the last word, I’m done here.

                    • paridell

                      Not a particularly gracious concession, but ’twill serve.

    • publiusnj

      Protestants, at best, cherry pick History. Luther, in Protestantish history of the sort recounted by paridell, is a simple-hearted saint beyond compare. Sure he was. Tell that to Munzner.

      And even more hypocritically, they ignore Luther’s supporters. As though, they too were such selfless, simple-hearted Christians. Like the North German dukes or Albert Hohenzollern or those Scandinavian kings, all of whom so loved the simple, ancient Church of Christ that they took it over and made it their own…including all its possessions.

      And they inspired other lovers of simple Christianity to take over the Church in other countries under different theologies, like Henry VIII and the Lairds of the Congregation. And guess what? They all ended up taking over the Church”s property in their countries too instead of forcing the “corrupt Catholic Church” to drown in its “ill-gotten wealth” when compared to the poverty and simplicity of their true evangelical faith.

      • Arriero

        What you say about «lovers of simple Christianity», «early Church», «true evangelical faith [of the first Church]» and so on are pure mythological nonsenses invented by some pseudo-historians who never studied – and even less understood – the Church’s history, development and nature.

        When you mention such things you’re saying nothing. Simple and simplistic cheap metaphysics. Opinions which are not grounded in any well-known fact other than topical pseudo-theories.

        Read some history of the Church from the Scholastics, for instance.

        • publiusnj

          I had my tongue planted firmly in my cheek when I said those things. My point is that the “reformers” were often far more interested in appropriating the Church’s property for their own use. How else would so many of the homes of England’s “nobility” get names like “Downton Abbey”?

          • Arriero

            Sorry, my reply was directed to «paridell», not to you. I pressed the wrong button.

            I agree with both of your comments. Your point is right and I agree with it.

            Buen Viernes Santo and Happy Easter.


            • paridell

              Far be it from me to describe Martin Luther as a simple-hearted saint… if for no other reason than that I once produced the English version of a German documentary on him entitled “Martin, What Have You Done?” Nonetheless, matters had reached such a pass in 16th-century Germany that Luther felt compelled to demand reform. It was only when that reform was denied that he left, or was expelled from, the Catholic Church. And that set the ball rolling for more extreme breaks with Rome elsewhere. I don’t deny that the Reformation had immensely damaging repercussions, as the Schism of 1054 also did. But both the Schism and the Reformation were also responses to damaging breakdowns in relations. With goodwill on both sides, they could have been averted; unfortunately, they were not. I submit that it is long past time to show goodwill on both sides now. Do we really need to maintain a Christian parallel to the Sunni-Shia split within Islam?

              • Arriero

                Erasus – and even Thomas Moore – did more or less what Luther is said that he was trying to do – because the truth is that he and his princes were really hungry of earthly power (Der Wille Zur Macht) – WITHIN the limits of Catholicism.

                The first jesuits did far more and brought much more reform WITHIN the limits of Catholicism than any protestant sect would have ever imagined. The second Scholastics (Counter-Reformists) did such a great job that their works are still studied and admired and have still full force. Before and after a vain man who believed he was directly touched by God, many Catholics tried to reform TRUTHFULLY some important aspects of the Church, and with humility.

                Pity the day that Charles I of Spain didn’t obliterate from the first beginning all the heresies!

                Again, you mention some myths very widespread in anglo-protestant (WASP) circles. But thank God I don’t belong to that enviroment. Thank God in millenarian Catholic land history is well-known and well-studied, always avoiding protestanized pseudo-theories. 1) It’s a myth that the Reformation could have been avoided with a pact between the Church and the pseudo-reformists. The Reformation would have only been stopped with the total extermination of the heretics; as the Church certainly did since Theodosius. The Reformation succeed for political reasons, not for religious ones. 2) Luther was helped and spurred by german princes in their infinite greed to control and gather power. Without that help Luther would have never got anything; he would have finished at the stake, as many other before him. 3) The liturgical and theological [anti]Reform was, of course, denied. I’ve already said that Erasmus and others showed the problems before Luther did.

                YES, We really need to mantain that schism until Protestant understand that the truth is ONLY in Catholicism. And we also have to mantain that schism because ROME DOES NOT PAY TRAITORS. You have the doors of the Church open if you want to join it. But don’t hope us to join you. The biggest enemy of Catholicism in South-America now, for instance, is protestantism, not islam.

                • paridell

                  Arriero, I have in my possession a century-old book called “A Cabinet of Catholic Information”. One of its sections is on how to answer questions from Protestants. One of the questions is, “Isn’t the Catholic Church the church that persecutes?” The answer is along the lines of “No, it certainly is not.” And here you are, a hundred years later, regretting that the Catholic Church failed to engage in “total extermination of the heretics”? I thought I was supposed to be the one who didn’t know history! Have you never heard of Tertullian’s dictum, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”? I assure you, the Protestants of the sixteenth century knew it well.

                  You are quite right that Luther had many of the German princes behind him. And so did the Pope! In other words, they balanced each other out. You are also correct that the Jesuits and the Counter-Reformation achieved a lot within the limits of the Catholic Church. What you fail to realise is that those achievements were only made possible by the shock therapy previously administered by the Reformation.

                  Before you reply, let me guess. You are about to tell that my errors know no bounds. Oh, well.

              • TheAbaum

                “Do we really need to maintain a Christian parallel to the Sunni-Shia split within Islam?”

                No. RCIA classes are forming soon.

                • paridell

                  You mean, yes!

                  • TheAbaum

                    I know what I mean.

                    • paridell

                      I think we both do.

                    • TheAbaum

                      Well then, sign up.

    • Arriero

      You’re totally unaware of history, of course.

      A protestant talking about Church’s history is something like a zoologist (Richard Dawkins) talking about God; i.e. a contradictio in terminis.

      If the Reformation did something was precisely denying the core Tradition and that was only possible starting from a partial and profoundly ignorant understanding of the history of the Church – which is certainly only one: ROMAN and CATHOLIC -.

      Apart, that thing about the «early Church» as understood by protestants is a mythical invention. The Church really began to be Church only when Catholicism (the greek Tradition) was stablished as the official religion of the Roman (anti-barbarian, anti-germanic) Empire.

      Protestants did a very simple thing: an act of infinite vanity. And we’re still paying for the consequences of that act (the Robespierran Revolution, Marxism, Protestant Liberalism, Two world wars and Post-modernism).

      And always remember: ROME DOES NOT PAY TRAITORS.


      • fredx2

        Now, there’s your Mr. Rogers.

      • paridell

        Arriero, I hope you’re not picturing me on that ladder!

        It is already Good Friday where I am (in Australia), so the last thing I want to do is enter into any acrimonious discussion. I will only say that both Catholics and Protestants can appeal to history with plenty of justification to support their respective cases, not to mention our Greek Orthodox brothers and sisters whose Easter coincides with ours this year. With them, the Fourth Crusade still rankles. In Ireland, there are mutually incompatible Catholic and Protestant versions of history going back to St Patrick. That is why Stephen Dedalus tells Mr Deasy, “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”

        Perhaps in this 21st century we might concentrate on what unites us, rather than what divides us?

        Happy Easter!

        • Arriero

          Nothing essential unite us because the essentials were denied by you, not by us.

          I’ve never believed in ecumenism and I think is another invention with very few meaning and even less results; because when dealing with protestants you have a right option (the Catholic) and a wrong one (Protestantism). The Church has no friends other than herself. There are things which cannot be discussed.

          Protestantism was already born dead (as Nietzsche pointed out).

          There is no need to join the decadence and the nothing. If you want union, join the Catholic Church, which is, despite all the attacks she has had to endure, open to everybody.

          Apart from that, Happy (Catholic) Easter. It’s a pity that you can’t live the greatness of Catholicism during Easter. Taste it, maybe you even end up liking it.


          • paridell

            Nietzsche is a dangerous ally. He is best known for having his mouthpiece ask the rhetorical question, “Have ye not heard that God is dead?”

            I’m off to a performance of ‘Messiah’. Happy Easter!

            • Arriero

              Nietzsche is the less anti-Catholic of all XVIII century [german] atheists.

              You read him and you cannot do anything but thinking: «poor man, how hard had been for him living in a protestant [pietist] family». No wonder that he finished mad. He even dared to study protestant theology! For the good of his health – which was already fragile -, he quitted.

              That’s why I understand how after living in such circumstances and having learned Christianism from such flawed perspective he dared to say «God is dead». What had you wanted him to do in such circumstances?

              Apart from that, he had a very original style and a wonderful domain of german, which is admirable, being german the barbarous language «par excellence» (I hope Goethe forgives me for saying that). It’s no coincidence that Nietzsche admired, above all, french language and french culture.

              I hope you enjoyed the performance. In millenarian Catholic land there were great processions yesterday. A pleasure for the eyes, and the spirit («geist», as Nietzsche would have said).

              • Arriero

                PS- Of course, Nietzsche was from the XIX century, not the XVIII, as written above. From the XVIII century were the protestant liberals and the robespierrans.

  • hombre111

    Nicely done, as usual. Congratulations. I went to a seminary run by Benedictines and imbibed their way of prayer, which serves me to this day.

  • Tony

    Professor Martin reminds me of the wish that Tolkien expressed, that he could take a three-foot square plot of land and farm it perfectly. The whole world about us is slovenly, ugly, gargantuan, thoughtless, detached from history and the ordinary rhythms of life. The Shire is a place for farming, contemplation, friendship, singing, and beer.

  • accelerator

    “…falling *prey* to Protestant theology, which knows *nothing* of history and, given its *fundamentalist* fixations, *disdains* those who do.”

    You have got to be kidding me. Otherwise nice essay marred by unnecessarily over-the-top caricature. Having a different interpretation of history is not the same thing has knowing nothing of it, or perhaps Pope John thought his invitations to Culbert, Outler and others were nothing other than olive branches to theological rubes.

    Also, I doubt participants in the Evangelicals and Catholics Together overture would characterize each others theologies as programs others fall “prey” to, or ones their debate partners “disdain.” Disagree with, certainly, but the rhetorical difference is significant. Even Belloc came off as pompous when he played such cards.

    What’s doubly ironic is this: the same Catholics who go out of their way to consign the most traditional sentiments to Vatican II documents end up bypassing the Council’s charitable reading of its “separated brethren” when they reduce Protestant theology to the cause of “fundamentalist” primitives who know nothing of history. Right or wrong, it was the abuses of history at first-hand the sparked the earliest Protestant theologians to write, and they were hardly oblivious to the volumes of the Church Fathers. Any more than Protestant theologians are today: check out Thomas Oden’s Ancient Chrisian Commentary for starters, if you can hold your nose that long. Brilliant people can come to different verdicts on history.

    Meanwhile, modern Catholics themselves can certainly seem a little oblivious to history when they act like Inerrancy or Creationism are backwoods theology they can legitimately just shrug off onto the shoulders of Evangelical simpletons, like they weren’t also staples of Vatican affirmations up until only recently.

    As I said, the overall idea behind the essay is nice, but the potshots at Protestants are unnecessary and suggest an insular superiority complex. I know this is Crisis, but maybe because it is Crisis, I expect marksmanship a little less cavalier.

  • The Wall


    I’m a Protestant but genuinely interested in Catholicism. The more I read Catholic theology (lately St John Paul II Theology of the Body) and commentators (lately Charles Taylor) the more I get the feeling that there is a shallowness to protestantism, one possibly born of having to constantly expend energy deciding what one believes. Does anyone have any recommendations as to what an interested protestant should read if he wanted to hear the Catholic side of the argument? One sticking point with me is that Protestants seem to have done a good job of creating successful nations (although I’m starting to see that they may have more of a problem when it comes to sustaining the dark-ages those nations are coming to). What do other readers make of this? Thanks in advance.

    • Arriero

      – «Does anyone have any recommendations as to what an interested protestant should read if he wanted to hear the Catholic side of the argument?»

      I recommend you to read: 1) St. Agustine. 2) Spanish mysticism through the works of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Ávila. 2) German mysticism through Henry Suso and Johannes Tauler (and after with Meister Eckhardt, which is a bit more difficult, maybe). 3) St. Thomas Aquinas is compulsory reading for everyone in the world, but even more for Catholics. Everything in Aquinas is subtle, beautiful and well-crafted. When you have read Aquinas and then you read Leibniz or Descartes or Hume you notice the superficiality and rudeness of the last ones. 4) The Spanish Scholastics. Here, you – and everyone – should read all. No one can understand the world without having studied the Scholastics. Father Juan de Mariana, Azpilicueta, etc. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_of_Salamanca ) Franciso Suárez is impressive. You will find really interesting all these authors because they pertained to the Couter-Reformation, and where those who correctly pointed out to the weaknesses of Protestantism. They also talk about law, economics, etc. from a Catholic perspective. 5) The Chuch’s Father, especially those from the Latin tradition.

      I’ve recommended you mainly works (just a very tiny part) from the Latin Tradition – especially written by Spaniards – which was the country that evangelized the world, never allowed Protestantism to penetrate and began the Counter-Reformation.

      – «One sticking point with me is that Protestants seem to have done a good job of creating successful nations»

      That’s a myth. A very false and harmful myth, indeed. Do you think Sweeden is a more succesful country than Spain? Do you think Denmark is a more succesful country than France? Do you think the Czech Republic is a more succesful country than Slovakia? Do you think that even the US as a whole is more succesful than Bavaria, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Slovakia and Poland together? Isn’t Bavaria the richest region of Germany by far and isn’t Bavaria proudly Catholic? Aren’t some mostly-Catholic states of the US some of the richest ones?

      The idea you mention is certainly believed by too many people, even by Catholics, especially those who live in protestant countries (like northern germans, english Catholics and some american Catholics too). But it is a false idea. In fact, this same way of thinking is the same that built the Spanish Black Legend about the evangelization of America, etc. in their attempt to undermine the Church’s Authority.

      I’m going to announce here as an axiom an idea that is, however, well-grounded and argumented: protestantism opened the box of relativism. Direct heirs of protestantism are protestant classical liberalism (in oppossition to real Catholic liberalism: theory of value, marginal utility, etc.) and marxism. Post-modernism is in turn a new product of the box opened by protestantism.

      • The Wall

        Thank you for taking the time to write that response, I appreciate it. Your last point (the axiom) is similar to a point that Charles Taylor keeps making in ‘A Secular Age’; the protestant reformation contributed to the rise of individualism and thus helped to bequeath to us the ‘secular age’ we all now live in.

        I asked my proudly Fundamentalist Protestant Grandfather recently whether it was the duty of every Christian in every generation to go back to the Bible and work out for themselves exactly what they believed, and he said quite firmly ‘Yes!’ But it just can’t be like that can it? For starters nobody has the time to do that in the real world, so everybody will ultimately take some form of authority for the majority of their beliefs. Secondly every single heresy will be freshly fought in every generation because the whole body of doctrine is always open. Thirdly, tradition hardly gets off the ground and I get the feeling that this must impact on spiritual depth to some degree. I feel that within popular protestantism at the moment, its roots only go back as far as the beginning of evangelicalism. The doctrinal content prior to that is largely lost on this generation. A Baptist hardly knows what makes him a Baptist, a conservative Anglican is no different: both are convinced of ‘Reformed Soteriology’, the Trinity (although some aspects of that are up for grabs such as ‘eternal generation’), and a handful of other points and that’s about as deep as it gets to some degree. Anyway, I’m rambling, but thanks again for responding.

        • PNeri

          «Does anyone have any recommendations as to what an interested protestant should read if he wanted to hear the Catholic side of the argument?»

          The Discourse on the Bread of life, St John Chapter 6. “My flesh is food indeed…” which Church teaches this?

          Not all believed this ‘ hard saying’ and Judas was among them… Judas first betrayed our Lord by rejecting His teaching on the Blessed Sacrament.
          Pray to receive the grace to believe in the real prescence of our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament. Conversion will quickly follow. God Bless!

      • paridell

        “Do you think Sweden (sp.) is a more successful (sp.) country than Spain? Do you think Denmark is a more successful country than France?”

        Why, yes. Don’t you?

        • publiusnj

          “Denmark a more successful country than France”? Come on, that shows such ignorance of History that you are making the author’s point all over again.

          • paridell

            Denmark is a politically stable constitutional monarchy with the highest standard of living in the world. It is a reluctant member of the EU but has never accepted the euro. It has a proud record of resistance to Germany in World War II, including saving many of its Jews. France on the other hand has a history of political instability, collaborationism, unassimilated Muslim immigrants, an over-regulated economy, a euro it cannot afford, and a heavy dependence on subsidies from Germany. Granted, it does have a solitary aircraft carrier, together with many museums, chateaus, wines and cheeses. But as de Gaulle said, ” How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?”

            More to the point in the present context, France is a stronghold of Republican anti-clericalism and hardly represents the model Catholic nation that Arriero appears to think it is. It’s been a long time since their most Catholic majesties occupied the throne of France! That is, when it had a throne. I took a close interest in the Manifs in which the minority of observant Catholics took their stand against the legalisation of homosexual marriage. But they lost.

            A Czech writer, Milan Kundera I think, observed that France has spent its history waiting for one great thing to happen, which will now never happen. Granted, France is bigger than Denmark, but overall, which is the more successful nation? I’d say Denmark for sure. I’m pretty sure a lot of French people would feel the same.

            • publiusnj

              Denmark had a “proud record” of resistance to Germany in WWII? Come on, you are living in a dream world. The craven Danes surrendered six hours after they were invaded! Their casualties? All of 16 dead and 20 wounded. Some proud record of resistance!

              And as to Denmark versus France on Gay Marrige? Denmark approved Gay Marriage BEFORE France. So once again, your view of Denmark is skewed in the extreme.

            • Art Deco

              Denmark had a three digit population of Jews who were successfully spirited out of the country in 1940. By some accounts, local Danish officials were able to co-opt and neutralize German soldiers sent to occupy the country, so the place was fairly mildly governed during the war. There was no resistance.

              Denmark also has a considerable population of Muslim immigrants. By some accounts, these immigrants are a great source of violent crime (especially rape), but the Danish government refuses to release the data. (Rather like the data series the Bureau of Justice Statistics would no longer release after 2008). For all the trouble ‘unassimilated Muslim immigrants’ cause in France, the homicide rate is only about 20% higher in France than in Denmark.

              France actually has a working military and operates independently in the international sphere. Denmark does not. Other people had to do the work of burying the Wehrmacht, including the Free French.

              France is over-regulated. Denmark is an EU member. You think it is not? Given that the gdp per capita in France differs from Germany’s by only 12% (and differs from Denmark’s by only 5%), I tend to suspect this contention that they ‘depend’ on ‘heavy subsidies’ from Germany to be a factoid.

              Oh, some of us are of an age to recall when Denmark was the porn capital of the world.

              Between 1870 and 1958, France had a difficult time with parliamentary government and ministries tended to be evanescent. However, it has had no internally-generated disruptions in its political order since 1851; it has faced military occupation twice. While we are at it, 1958 was a while ago and the duration of French ministries exceeds that of the 3d Republic 2.5 fold and that of the 4th Republic 5 fold. It is not ‘politically unstable’. It has a history of political contention and inefficiency.

              • paridell

                “Denmark is an EU member. You think it is not?”

                If I may quote the third line of my post: “It is a reluctant member of the EU.”

                On Danish resistance in World War II, see MRD Foot, Special Operations Executive (1989). Or for the short version: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Operations_Executive#Denmark

                I’m afraid your claim that Denmark had a “three-digit population of Jews” is incorrect. While it is no doubt true that some Jews were spirited out of the country in 1940 (and 1941 and 1942), Denmark still had a population of 7800 Jews in 1943, and in that year they were targeted for deportation to the death camps. It is a fact that the Danish Resistance saved them. As Yad Vashem puts it, “The rescue operation by the Danish underground is exceptional because of the widespread agreement and resolve of many Danes from all walks of life – intellectuals, priests, policeman, doctors, blue collar workers – to save the Jews.” The contrast with the record of Vichy France could not be more stark.

                To be fair to the French, whom I love, they do have a genius for reinventing themselves after their periodic convulsions and collapses. But they cannot boast, as the Danes do, an Australian princess!

                • Art Deco

                  What periodic convulsions and collapses? They were under military occupation from 1940 to 1944, like every other country in continental Europe bar Switzerland, Spain, and Portugal. The northeastern part of the country was under military occupation during 1870 and 1871. Prussia also gave a bloody nose to Denmark in 1864, but evidently that does not count. The last political point of inflection of note occurred in 1958, but that was neither a convulsion nor a collapse, but the beginning of a political regeneration; and everything was accomplished quite lawfully. There was a mass of strikes and street demonstrations in May of 1968, but these were theatre without consequences. The last political convusion in France occurred in 1848 (co-incident with convulsions all over the Continent). The Danish constitution dates from 1849.

                  Who gives a rip if the Danish political class entered the EU with a long face (which their Norwegian counterparts refused to do)? They are still subject to the nexus of treaties and to the regulatory and social legislation of the European Commission.

                  • Arriero

                    In fact, Denmark is so irrelevant in the world that her prime minister has to things like that to gather some attention:


                    I’m not able to imagine the presidents or prime ministers from serious [Catholic] nations doing that in public.

                    • TheAbaum

                      Hmmm. Three blind mice or the three stooges?

                    • Arriero

                      The funny thing was seeing the face of Michelle Obama – who was sitting next to Obama – when he – her husband – was flirting with this typical-blonde-superficial-naff-smooth-face-uninteresting danish, during a funeral. Michelle should have given him a slap (these are the «progressive women», who let their husbands smiling and «playing» in the midst of a funeral with the same woman that Berlusconi already tried to flirt without saying a thing. They know nothing about dignity, pride, elegance, education and, ultimately, manners).

                      And let’s not talk about the other one on the photo… What a lousy level. And the worst thing is that neither Obama, nor Cameron are the worst in the political world. Better no take a closer look at others. No wonder how Putin is ready to anexionate half Eastern Europe with such western politicians. At least, Putin does not want this decadence for his country, and has an idea of Nation in his head.

                    • TheAbaum

                      ” Putin does not want this decadence for his country, and has an idea of Nation in his head.”

                      Your dictator-crush is showing.

                    • paridell

                      Just as well Putin is not a Catholic, or Arriero would be totally smitten!

                    • DE-173

                      Arrerio’s version of Catholicism reminds me of the “World War II” weekend I recently visied. Admist the vintage warbirds and re-enactors was this guy wearing a “Captain America” costume.

                  • paridell

                    What periodic convulsions and collapses? Interested readers can explore one example in excruciating detail in William L. Shirer’s ‘The Collapse of the Third Republic’ (1960). It would be tedious – indeed, a Sisyphean task – to list them all. One might compile an alphabetical list, from Algeria to Zola. Let it suffice to note that French law incorporates the principle of ‘oubli juridique’, legally imposed forgetting, precisely in order to allow a fresh start after each bout of national self-torment. In a way, though, we are in agreement: I credit the French with a genius for reinvention, and you, with political regeneration. But in either case, the necessary precondition is an uproar that shakes the nation to its core.

                    • Art Deco

                      Sorry, no sale. France suffered a military defeat in 1940, as did Denmark; it did not suffer an implosion of its political order. References to the radio reporter William L. Shirer do not change that.

                      Retreat another square on the board.

                    • paridell

                      Come now, in the collapse of the Third Republic and the rise of the collaborationist Vichy regime France suffered an implosion* of the first water. It shocked Europe, in particular the Poles, who were looking principally to France for their deliverance from Germany. It remains the locus classicus of national humiliation to this day. Can it seriously be suggested that France did not suffer an implosion of its political order in 1940? Answer: No!

                      *Implosion, noun. A violent collapse inward; a catastrophic failure.

        • Arriero

          Good joke. Though I’ve to say I’m not good with anglo humour. Those square-minded protestants filled the world with too much funny stupidity. Only Catholics can laugh loudly at such contradictions.

          Comparing Spain and Sweeden is like comparing… well, actually, like comparing Catholicism and Protestantism.

          Comparisons that fall under their own weight.

          Or maybe is like comparing the Australian football team and the Spanish football team, don’t you think? Some comparison are really funny.

          That Spain is a greater nation that Sweden is an axiom. It does not need any demonstration or argumentation. Ídem for Catholicism, which is, by the way, Spain, and the other way around. And are you serious on comparing France and Denmark? Please, please. Are you really trying to compare a viking peninsula – that even the romans regarded as a hell of ignorance, illiteracy and savagery famous for their rude soldiers, unable to win the roman legions, though – with a country known for its cultural, artistic, musical and spiritual refinement and admirable history? It’s no coincidence that Spain and France ARE Catholic nations, and Sweeden and Denmark… I don’t really know which odd god is worshiped in that cold lands lost of the hand of God.

          Learn Spanish and french language and then try to learn Danish or Swede. It’s already clear even in the language which are the CANONICAL nations. What a pity that Spanish conquerors didn’t reach Australia!

          Have a nice Easter!

          PS- What you say about «over-regulation» in France and such things are, again, myths from the envious and jelous anglo-world. There is more regulation in Germany. And let’s not talk about the regulation in the UK, or is the UK a paradise of anarchy with lots of years of labour government in the 90’s. I cannot bear the anglo-protestant (usually anti-Catholic) view of the world, sorry. But hey, French people don’t care what the world think about them. It’s something admirable french people have.

        • TheAbaum

          Success is not a unidimensional objective scalar measurement. It depends on what attributes you define as components of “success”, how you measure them and who you value the component measures.

          • paridell

            Quite so. It all depends on how you define “success”. But Arriero did not ask, for example, “Do you think Denmark is more distinguished culturally or philosophically than France?” He simply asked, as one of a series of questions whose answers he must have considered self-evident, “Do you think Denmark is a more successful country than France?” As it happens, I think Denmark is more stable, more prosperous, more harmonious politically and socially, than France. Those are the things that define success in a country, in my view.

            All the same, I would rather live in Paris!

            • TheAbaum

              Stability is overrated. You want stability, visit Cuba or North Korea.

              Even if I were to grant the superiority of Denmark over France in the attributes selected, it’s a stretch to attribute to faith tradition.

              • paridell

                You think Cuba and North Korea are stable? I don’t expect either of them to see the decade out.

                As for whether a country’s faith tradition bears on its success, don’t tell me, tell Arriero! He was the one who pushed this line (“Isn’t Bavaria the richest region of Germany by far and isn’t Bavaria proudly Catholic?”) And as for France, I point out below that France is a stronghold of Republican anti-clericalism. That is why I found it so surprising that Arriero spoke of it as if their most Catholic majesties were still on the throne.

                • TheAbaum

                  Of course Cuba is stable. It’s been stable for almost 60 years. I didn’t say it was healthy.

                  • paridell

                    Stability does not consist in stagnation preceding collapse.

                    By that standard, the Soviet Union and East Germany were stable.

                    Cf OED: “Stable, adj., not likely to give way or collapse.”

                    • DE-173

                      What part of the last sentence eluded you?

                    • paridell

                      Only the full stop.

    • publiusnj

      Read Acts 15:1-16:5 and then 2 Timothy 1-2:5; and then James @:21-24 and John 20:21-24. Acts 15 shows that the belief of Christians is not something they make up on their own. Paul, the author of half the New Testament, went to the Central Church authority resident at the time in Jerusalem to get a call on Circumcision, and Peter, although he was on the lam from Herod, came back to Jerusalem to preside over and make the definitive call on the issue. Indeed, he specifically claimed in the presence of Paul (and without rebuttal from Paul) (Acts 15:7-10) to have been appointed by God as the head of the mission to the Gentiles! The ruling was then adopted by the whole Church after James backed down from his Judaizing positiona and a circulating letter was carried back by Paul and Banabas that was binding on all the churches to which it was taken.

      2 Timothy also shows that the teaching authority in the Church was passed on through the bishops to entrusted disciples who were ordained by the laying on of hands and thereby had the power of preaching and who had to follow the deposit of faith received and were commanded to hand it on through the same process to trusted servants (2 Tim 1:6, 13-14; 2 Tim. 2:1-2)

      Finally, on that ultimate dispute, Sola Scriptura, please read James 2:24 (“You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”) and then John 20:21-23 which shows that Jesus conferred the incredible power of forgiving sins on His Church, not on the faith alone of anyone who happens to read Scripture: “Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Notice, Jesus didn’t say: “write a book so people can believe in me and be justified by Faith Alone.”

    • Howard

      We could try to compare the cultures of different countries, but that ends up being too much like comparing the beauty of different women. There is not one kind of feminine beauty, there are millions, and that is a good thing! Likewise, it is a very good thing that France is French and Scotland is Scottish and Poland is Polish; if they ever become merely “European”, the world will be much poorer.

      So a comparison of Protestant and Catholic nations is like the famous Ginger-vs-Mary Ann debate. If you prefer Ginger, I will feel certain that you are wrong, but de gustibus non est disputandum.

      Perhaps more seriously, try applying this standard to the world of, say, 650 B.C. The 10 Northern Tribes were slaves of the Assyrians, and Judah looked like it might fall at any time, which it in fact did soon enough to the Babylonians. Judah had no great wealth, no great power, no great learning (that would come later), and no great standard of living. Judah was not famous for art or literature or a fine cuisine, nor for architecture or engineering or craftsmanship. None of the standards you wish to apply to Christian nations would identify anything interesting about Judah, but it was only in Judah that proper worship was rendered to the One True God.

    • TheAbaum

      “One sticking point with me is that Protestants seem to have done a good job of creating successful nations.”

      I’m not so sure of that. What do you mean by “successful”?

    • Hegesippus

      Taylor Marshall’s books are a good source for going deeper into theology through Scripture, he having swam the Tiber himself.

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