Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The simple definition of Catholic. . .

With all due respect to St. Vincent of Lérins, it occurs to me that his definition of catholicity might not be as clear as one might like.  It sounds great in theory but in practice you have competing groups who all claim to be and to have what St. Vincent describes.  So, if you will, let me give you a definition of Catholic that is both simple and practical.  You will note that I am speaking here of Catholic in the fullest sense of that word (and have dispensed with the small c  to emphasize how important this is.

The Catholic believes the Word of God.  The Scriptures are, for the Catholic, not simply words or even words but a means of grace.  They are true and this truth is nothing to shake a stick at but in one sense they are even better than true.  They are efficacious.  The Catholic reveres the Word of God not simply because of its origin or its history or even because it is factual, historic, and true.  No, the Catholic honors the Word of God because it does what it says and bestows that which it speaks.  It is not a dead word of history but the living voice of the Good Shepherd still calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying the sheep.  This Word of God is not theoretical or something we must distill -- this Word of God is the Bible.  You cannot be Catholic and claim that its principal figures are mythological or symbolic or that its miracles are legend or imagination.  You cannot be Catholic and hold something over the Scriptures -- not reason or judgment or preference or opinion.  Not even Church.  It is the same fool's errand as the chicken and the egg to try and figure out which came first -- the Bible or the Church.  One is never without the other.  Every Catholic knows this and believes this and is not embarrassed or ashamed of the Word of God.  We live by it for it's power is the Scriptures and it cannot be divorced in some neat way from its speaker -- the Son of God.

The Catholic lives by the liturgy.  The liturgy is not optional or a bare framework or adiaphora.  The liturgy is the drumbeat of the life of the Christian and the life of the Church.  It moves through time to the rhythm of the Church Year and the weekly movement from Lord's Day to Lord's Day.  The liturgy informs the piety of the Christian by recalling the baptismal identity imparted by God and filling it with the means of grace -- Word and Eucharist.  The Catholic does not choose between God's gifts but lives by them as God has given them -- gifts, richly provided, according to God's design and not what you prefer or desire.  The liturgy calls us to confession and absolution for who can enter into God's presence or dare to walk upon the holy ground with being made clean by the grace of forgiveness?  The Catholic does not find this to be some routine and mundane practice to get out of the way before getting to the good stuff.  For the Catholic, forgiveness is itself the good stuff and the Catholic delights in that good stuff and rejoices over the mercy that absolves the unworthy and undeserving.  The liturgy is the setting in which God bestows upon us the very bread of heaven and the cup of salvation.  In this bread is the flesh of Christ and in this cup is His blood -- not as symbols but as means through which what it signed is actually bestowed.  The presence is real -- the most real thing of all.  The presence is not present because we believe it to be or even because the Church and the ministry says it is.  It is Christ's Word that effects this mystery and miracle and it is Christ's Supper and not the Church's or the Christians.  He uses bread and wine and uses the voice of the Pastor but it is His Word and His Eucharist that we are invited to hear, believe, receive, and rejoice in.

The Catholic prays -- not as some sort of formula to get what you want from a God reluctant to give you grace but as the faithful who believe God knows, wills, and bestows that which is good, right, and best.  This faith is epitomized in the phrase Thy will be done.  The Catholic believes this.  The Catholic does not qualify this or attempt to manipulate it but makes knows the desires of the heart with the faith to believe that God's grace is sufficient, His will is gracious, and His purpose is our good.  The Catholic loves forms for prayer because they connect our lives of prayer, intercession, supplication, and thanksgiving with those who went before us but the Catholic does not elevate the form above the faith that prays.  The Catholic prays above all the Our Father as our Eucharistic prayer, our prayer of confession, our prayer of thanksgiving, and our prayer of thanksgiving.  

The Catholic sings.  Music is not primarily a personal preference or individual choice but the medium God has provided for us to worship Him.  We do not sing because we want to or like to but because this IS what we do.  The response of God's people to God's mighty acts of deliverance are sung.  From Moses teaching the children of Israel to sing of God's deliverance to the angels singing at the birth of the Savior to the choirs spoken of in heaven by St. John the Divine and the Revelation give him by the Spirit, we sing.  Music is not performance but confessional and liturgical and doxological.  Theology must sing or it is not theology and the people of God sing or they are not the people of God.  From the chants of Psalm and Divine Service to the hymns old and new, we sing.  It is who we are and what we do in response to what God has done for us.

The Catholic confesses and prays the Creed (s).  The Creeds are not the voice of people or the Church or an authority that competes with the Scriptures but the response of the Church to the voice of God's Word.  We hear what God has said and we repeat back to Him what He has said -- and in doing so that which is most sure and certain is placed upon our lips as worship to God and witness to the world.  The Catholic honors the way through the ages the unchanging doctrine of the faith has unfolded and been applied to specific times and for specific challenges.  The Catholic also confesses from time to time in ways that do not compete with either the Word or the creeds but apply to the particular moment the voice of reform and renewal when the structures have failed us and our leaders have lost their way.

The Catholic shines with the borrowed light of Christ before the world.  Our works neither compete with nor replace God's work to redeem His lost and death marked creation but they do help our neighbor, show forth God's glory, and give evidence of the hope within us.  God does not need these works but our neighbor does and so we delight in loving as we have been loved, forgiving as we have been forgiven, and serving as we have been served -- even though these words do not earn us anything.  Everything we have has been given to us by God's gracious and steadfast love but what we receive is reflected in who we are, how we think, what we say, and what we live.  We do not expect that our works will fix what is wrong in the world (Christ has already done that) but we do bear the burdens of those around us because Christ has borne our burden even to the cross.  We are not do-gooders but do Christ's good to others as He has done it to us -- it is all about Christ and all for Christ.  The Catholic does not give to God but returns to the Lord what the Lord has given -- the tithes (yes, tithes!) and offerings we bring as the first fruits of what God has given us for His glory, for the support of His Kingdom and work, and because this is our duty as well as delight.

I know I have left out some things and I am sure some people will disagree with me but this is what I think of and what I mean when I use the word catholic or Catholic.


Carl Vehse said...

Can your definition of a "Catholic" include a person who is a confessional Lutheran?

Can your definition of a "Catholic" differ from that of a confessional Lutheran? If so, how?

John Joseph Flanagan said...

It is true there are some devout Catholics around, and many would fit the description you framed in your argument. The problem is that a predominant number of professing Catholics do not practice their own faith,even though they identify themselves as Catholic. Many Catholics are pro-abortion, and follow liberal and progressive values of the culture, esteeming them more than the Bible and the Creeds. Liberal Catholics are a significant bloc which continually votes for the Democrat Party, propping up the abortion industry and Planned Parenthood. But also troubling is the views of some Catholic priests on the Bible they purport to believe. For example, last night I viewed an old Larry King interview, in which there was a panel of religious leaders discussing belief in God and His word. Present we're an atheist, a rabbi, Muslim scholar, a popular spiritualist, a Catholic Priest, and one evangelical pastor...John MacArthur. When discussing the way to salvation, John MacArthur stated rightly the words of John 14:6 noting it is only possible through the redemptive work of Jesus. Now the Catholic priest declared that there are other paths to God, and seemed to believe what he was saying. I have met Catholic priests who think the same way, and I believe it is a common thing among Catholics. At least John MacArthur, a well informed Bible scholar, stuck to his guns, even when Larry King asked indignantly why a Jew who doesn't believe in Jesus would be denied going to Heaven. MacArthur doesn't flinch, and we all should be as bold. The Catholic Church is no place for a faithful believer to worship. It has not really changed or reformed, and remains apostate at its core.

Timothy Carter said...

I had to look up St. Vincent’s definition …hope I got the right one.
“With all due respect to St. Vincent of Lérins, (450 AD) it occurs to me that his definition of catholicity ("Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all.")… might not be as clear as one might like.”
Excellent blog on the definition of the TRUE CATHOILC FAITH, Pastor.
1) Scripture Alone
2) Liturgy
3) Prayer
4) Music
5) Creeds and Confessions
6) Various Vocations.
I was particularly moved by your comment that “Thy Will Be Done” is the basis of all CATHOLIC Prayer. I was taught in Catechism Class the drill of praying daily the TRIAD (10 Commandment, Apostle’s Creed and Lord’s Prayer). In my mis-spent youth I left the church for about 12 years and paid a heavy price. In my old age, I now know the comfort of praying “Thy Will Be Done” and the peace and comfort it brings to trust that God will do what He has promised to do…to take care of me... Faith planted by the Holy Spirit…mainly within the church.
Your blog is a real comfort to me. Blog on…confessionally Lutheran…and therefore truly CATHOLIC.
Blessed’ Advent…Blessed’ Christmas to you and yours.
Timothy Carter, Simple country Deacon, Kingsport, TN

ginnie said...

Thank you Timothy Carter for your comments with which I agree. This blog is a saver for me to read and re-read again and again.
ginnie renkel