For some months now I've noticed that I take great satisfaction in reciting the creed. Or, I should say, one of the creeds: at Mass of course it's the Nicene, but in my personal prayers it's the Apostles'. It's a reaction to the times. The spirit of the age is attacking the faith from many directions now, and the notion prevails in many minds that such things as specific religious beliefs are "antiquated" and obviously not just false but ridiculous, and not just ridiculous but dangerous. This has begun to bring out in me a spirit of defiance which is energized by the increasingly stupid and wicked things the spirit of the age demands that we believe. And the more it insists, and the more power it gets, the more I will, with the help of God, resist, and keep the promises I made when I became a Catholic thirty-six years ago. When I say the creed(s) now it is with a little of the feeling that I imagine a soldier might have when he digs in to defend to the death a piece of ground and says to the enemy Do your worst and be damned--I'll never back down.
I was in Washington DC over the Easter weekend and attended the Easter Vigil at St. Peter parish there. It was an impressive liturgy, with lots of good music including the assistance of a small orchestra. There was of course a group of people being baptized and/or confirmed, and so the creed was said in the question-and-answer cathechetical mode. It's a fairly large church and it was nearly full.
"Do you believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible?" says the priest.
"I do!" roars back the entire congregation.
It was wonderful to hear, and to be a part of.
I first learned the Apostles' Creed in my early teens as a Methodist. As a Catholic I've never felt that I had to repudiate the most important things I was taught as a Protestant: the things that have to do with the nature of the Church and of sacraments, yes, but apart from a different understanding of "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church," nothing in the creed. I'm happy that in recent decades many theologically "conservative" (you know what I mean) Protestants have given up their fierce anti-Catholicism, and vice-versa. This has been done in part by focusing on what we share rather than on what divides us. The brighter people on both sides realize that this only goes so far, and that differences remain which are not likely to go away anytime soon. Still, we are willing to count the others as fellow Christians.
I've gotten so used to this that it surprises me when I encounter Protestants who deny that Catholics and Orthodox (if they are even aware of the existence of the latter) are Christian at all. Apparently there are still more of these types than I think. Some of them run a web site called Pulpit and Pen. And when a prominent Protestant named Hank Hanegraaff, who apparently had a radio program called The Bible Answer Man (I assume he was that man), converted to Orthodoxy, he was denounced by Pulpit and Pen, and I'm sure others, as being no longer a Christian.
Well, so it goes, right? Like I said, it is a bit of shock to me when I encounter this attitude, but I know it's out there. I would not be remarking on this incident except that a guy from Pulpit and Pen named Jeff Maples took it upon himself to attend the Easter Vigil (not the right term, I know) at Hanegraaff's new church, and produced a weird little screed denouncing it.
Should we laugh at him? I'm reluctant to do that, being all ecumenical and stuff. But I think yes, we should. Pride and willful ignorance deserve mockery, and those are the two most striking qualities of the w.l.s. His denunciation is both ridiculous and malicious. Here is point 9 of his 9-point critique:
The Greek and Eastern Orthodox church is clearly a lifeless church. There was absolutely no gospel in this service. A lost person could not walk into this church and walk out a changed man. It was literally a Pagan practice. Like a seance. Pure witchcraft was going on in this place. In this religion, salvation doesn’t come through Christ’s imputed righteousness and substitutionary atonement on the cross, it comes through these dead rituals that they believe ontologically changes them into divine beings. It was truly one of the most wicked experiences I’ve ever seen.
He is of course comparing Orthodoxy to his concept of bible-only Christianity, and I'm struck more now than I once was by the pridefulness of that view as it is manifested in people like this, as dogmatically as this. When someone claims the Bible as his only authority and then uses theological terminology like "imputed righteousness and substitionary atonement," he clearly is bringing a whole lot of extra-biblical thinking to his supposedly pure straightforward reading of the text.
There are many Protestants, including some Evangelicals, who understand that the 1500-year legacy of thought and worship on the part of the Church before Protestantism has a great deal to say and must be given serious attention even by those who think it went wrong in ways that Protestantism corrected. But the folks at Pulpit and Pen don't need any of that. In their view the Bible requires no interpretive authority, and they are it.
They seem in fact to regard themselves as the hammer of heretics in the old style, as their web site is full of denunciations of other Christians, at least as many of them Protestant as Catholic or Orthodox. Mother Teresa, they inform us, is damned. And a few days after the appearance of this piece, they published an "apology" to the Eastern Orthodox community in which they said they were sorry they hadn't denounced "the grave and damnable heresies" of Orthodoxy sooner and more vigorously, along with any Protestants who have anything good to say about them. I wonder where such people think they get the authority to declare anyone a heretic, or--and this is really pretty funny--a schismatic.
Apart from the religious questions, Maples comes across as a clod. He enters an Orthodox church for the holiest celebration of the year with the intention of "confront[ing] Hanegraaff in person." (Fortunately he bailed out after two and a half hours, which made me chuckle--the Easter Vigil I attended lasted a full three.) In a liturgy and a physical building that were probably at least moderately pleasing aesthetically, he sees nothing good. The incense and bells are a "noxious combination." The chant is "eerie." The icons (which he amusingly calls graven images) "looked like lifeless figures just floating around in space."
Somewhere along the line a Catholic theologian came up with the nice phrase "invincible ignorance" to describe, and to some degree excuse, those who are by reason of ignorance, prejudice, and so forth truly unable to see the Catholic faith for what it is. I think it's roughly the equivalent of "Bless their hearts, they don't know any better." I don't think that's applicable here. This is willful ignorance, and, worse, a hard ugly pride.
The usual thing, and it's basically a good thing, is to close a criticism like this with "I'll pray for them." That often sounds insincere to me, as if said through gritted teeth. I guess we've all heard Christians say "I'll pray for you" in a tone that suggests that what they really mean is closer to "I hope you burn in hell." I suppose that's better than not praying at all. But in any case I don't feel up to it. Shaking the dust from my feet is more like it. But I can muster this bit of charity: I do hope that they'll change their minds. Jeff Maples mentions that he was married in a Catholic church (and the fact that he doesn't say it was "witchcraft" etc. may not be to the credit of that particular church) . I don't know if that means he's an ex-Catholic, or went through the motions because he wanted to marry a Catholic (which would be pretty strange for anyone who thinks the pope is the Antichrist etc. etc.), or what, but maybe he has a Catholic wife praying for him.
The funny thing about sola scriptura is that it isn't found in scripture. I think there are some reasonable arguments to be made for it: if you don't accept the idea of a visible Church possessing apostolic authority, it's not unreasonable to argue that only the written word is secure from the vagaries of human sin and weakness. But you can't prove it from scripture itself. Pulpit and Pen has a Statement of Faith which offers some proof texts intended to support it, but it's a pretty lame effort. I'm always a little amused by the attempt to make 2 Timothy 3: 16-17 do that work:
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.
True, of course. But getting from that to "The Scriptures are the only guide and rule of faith and conduct for the believer" (their words) is a pretty big leap of...interpretation. And made on what authority?
On a more pleasant subject: today is Divine Mercy Sunday. A few months ago I made a complaint about the Divine Mercy prayers:
The thing is...I don't want to submit myself with great confidence to God's holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself. I want him to fix the problem I'm asking him to fix.
At the time I had begun to pray that litany daily, with emphasis on a specific family problem. I'd been doing it for some little time then (not sure how much) and am still doing it, and expect to continue indefinitely. The problem has not only not been fixed but is worse and by any human measure seems to be permanent. But I have actually become much more able to submit myself with at least some confidence to what God is permitting, and which must therefore be in some sense his will.
Sometimes the line between darkness and light is clear.