TheCrockery

A Catholic perspective on the world and all the good things therein, especially books and food. Literature cum chocolate is the order of the day at The Crockery.

Name:
Location: A Collegetown, Undisclosed Location, United States

No longer a graduate student, Teresa is now a professional know-it-all.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Edward Oakes on the "H" Word

Those who weren't bored by my recent post on Catholic-Protestant interactions might be interested in this post over at the First Things blog. * What starts off as a call to conservative Catholics to avoid using the word "heresy" as a description of the doctrinal distinctives of their Protestant brethern ends up going into a very interesting discussion of what the Catholic Church lost in position itself in opposition to a misunderstanding of the Lutheran view of Justification. (Check out some very interesting examples of Therese of Lisieux's writings.)

His conclusion?

I do hereby conclude: When the Western Church fissiparated in the sixteen century, the Reformers took a portion of the essential patrimony of the Church with them, and they thereby left both the Roman Church and themselves the poorer for it.

I think what Oakes is alluding to here is the thesis, gaining ground among intelligent Catholics, that post-Reformation Catholicism, in defining itself so firmly against anything that looked Protestant, ended up exaggerating its own position and neglecting aspects of its own theology.
The same thing, of course, happened in the Protestant camps, too, where anything that looked or sounded too Catholic was automatically suspect. ("Celebrate the liturgical calendar? Not in this church! We only do what the Bible says! Now let's have the kids come to the front of the church for the kid talk, which incidentally, is never mandated by Scripture.") Oakes doesn't cover this ground, since he is, after all, addressing his fellow Catholics, but some of the recent blogging discussion on anti-Catholicism have highlighted this tendency.

In any case, I'm sure that we in the Catholic Church can think of plenty of areas in which our self-definitions are based primarily on opposition to an ecclesiastical Other. Sometimes the results are quite painful. Sometimes they're quite confusing, and they can make the work of grass-roots of ecumenism very hard. Sometimes this tendency can even lead people to defend positions that really ought not be defended, as in "My parish doesn't offer a Bible study for adults, but that's okay because evangelicals put too much emphasis on personal study of the Bible anyway. Really the Bible is supposed to read liturgically." Certainly the primary site for encountering the Word of God is in the church, rather than the small-group or the home, but that doesn't exonerate local parishes from the burden of providing opportunities for adult enrichment!

I digress, as usual. And please, don't take offense with my examples. Just go read what Oakes has to say on the subject.


Hat tip: Evangelical Outpost.

*Disclaimer: I hereby distance myself from the political views expressed over at First Things. Though I admire the "ecumenism of the trenches" practiced by the journal and exemplified in the Evangelicals and Catholics Together statements, I worry that the First Things crowd in general is sometimes a little too concerned with only uniting over specific political stances, some of which contradict traditional Catholic social teaching or just war teaching anyway. But that's a blog for another day.

4 Comments:

Blogger La Mama Loca said...

Honestly, I found Oake's argument unpersuasive. He seemed to be saying: "we shouldn't use the term "heretic" because it is offensive." Ok, I can see that. I don't see that his argument that Protestants hold to different "kinds" of heresy, or that their dissenting from Catholic doctrine is somehow NOT heresy, as compared to earlier heresy, is unconvincing. He chose one early heretical group who held to a highly important doctrine on the nature of Christ, and pointed out that Protestant views don't differ this much from the Catholic. However there were also many other heretical groups who dissented on more minor, but not unimportant, points of doctrine. I don't think the nature of the theological differences with many Protestants differ any less than with these groups.

I think the answer is to look to the Catechism. It seems pretty clear there, that although Protestants hold beliefs that are heretical, they are most likely not guilty of the sin of heresy. See paragraphs 817-819.

Basically, all labels applied to people tend to become fighting words. "Heretic" may be an objective fact but feels like a value judgment. A label lets you treat that person as an "other." So I think we ought to go right on labeling false doctrine as "heresy" but remember that people are people, and don't worry about labeling them.

I am VERY disturbed by the fact that he seems to have more in common with Protestants than fellow Catholics, and that he doesn't seem to extend the same charity (at least in feeling) to "liberal" Catholics that he extends to Protestants.

3:55 PM  
Blogger Teresa H.T. said...

However there were also many other heretical groups who dissented on more minor, but not unimportant, points of doctrine. I don't think the nature of the theological differences with many Protestants differ any less than with these groups.

This is an interesting point. I wonder if Oakes is really trying to redefine heresy so that it has a more limited meaning than it did historically speaking. But I don't know enough about the history of heresy to really comment on that.

This point, though. . .

I am VERY disturbed by the fact that he seems to have more in common with Protestants than fellow Catholics, and that he doesn't seem to extend the same charity (at least in feeling) to "liberal" Catholics that he extends to Protestants.

. . . this is a really good point. You're absolutely right, and I think I may actually blog about this later. I think this is a real ecumenical problem, and I think it's a result of that kind of "us against the enemy" mentality I mentioned in some of my earlier comments. I have a lot I'd like to say about it, and not really enough time say it now, so I'll hold off on that for later.

5:06 PM  
Blogger La Mama Loca said...

I've been thinking about this even more, and I think more and more that Oakes is off quite a bit. Yes, Protestants don't "dissent" on a point of christology, but most "dissent" on the nature of the Church and the nature of the sacraments. These are NOT "minor issues" in the Catholic understanding, they are fundamental to our understanding of salvation and the Christian life.

3:21 PM  
Anonymous eclexia said...

"...in defining itself so firmly against..."

I think that is a good way of hitting the nail on the head. I think anytime a church or group defines itself in terms of what it is against, or what it doesn't want to be like that another group is like, they will end up in error, even if what they are reacting to originally was error.

It reminds me of driver's ed, where we were told to keep focusing on the road, and not on the other distractions that you don't want to hit--like the curb, the bridge rail, the oncoming car. When you are focusing on what you don't want to hit, that thing, not the road, becomes your guide, and you will be more likely to mess up and swerve too far the other way to overcompensate.

I have seen this in many churches and even in the lives of many individual Christians, who are reacting to someone else or some teaching that they believe contradicts Scripture.

Adult kids do this, I think, when they try so hard to be "not like their parents". I think it is dangerous on any level to so define oneself in terms of another. In addition to the personal dangers of exaggeration that come from such a stance, it makes it very difficult to walk in charity to the person (or adherents to the theology) that you are defining yourself in contrast to.

I appreciate the dialogue here. I am Protestant and appreciate a context where I can listen to conversation like this, presented with conviction and integrity, without feeling attacked even though many of my beliefs are different.

9:17 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home