Thursday, September 20, 2012

Catholic Calvinism

 John Calvin, inspiration for
those who would expel those
who disagree with them from
the Church
   The subject of whether those who do not agree in full with everything the magisterium of the Church teaches came up in one of my classes yesterday and one of the students had a very interesting insight.  Comparing and contrasting Calvinist ecclesiology (theology of the Church) with Catholic ecclesiology, this student reminded us that the concept of the Church as a spiritual community of those destined for salvation was held by John Calvin and has long been condemned as heretical whereas the Catholic understanding of the Church is that the wheat and weeds grow together until the day of judgment and the Church—until that day when the Divine Judge separates out the saved and the damned—is no more than the visible community of the baptized.  Incidentally Calvinism’s Catholic cousin is Jansenism—a disease that is rampant in some Catholic circles on the web. 
We had a long discussion on the English Puritains—the Calvinist faction within the Church of England in the late 16th and first half of the 17th century—who wanted all those who held to “Roman Catholic” customs (such as the Sign of the Cross, the ring at a wedding, the placing of a cross or candles on the communion table, the use of the surplice [the only vestment retained in the Second Prayerbook of King Edward VI and in use in the Church of England at the time], or even a fixed liturgy itself) expelled from the Church of England because they were not being faithful to the Scriptures.   The Puritans were convinced that they knew what authentic Christianity was and those who disagreed with them should be expelled from the Church. 
To a lesser extent the same false doctrine was held by the Cathars in the 13th century.  The Cathars (also known as Albigensians) were Gnostic heretics who considered themselves the “Pure Ones” from the Greek  καθαρός (pure).  They knew the true faith and all others were on the road that led to damnation.  They alone were the true Christians.  These zealots who think that they can define who are the authentic Catholics and who are not authentic Catholics are cut from the same bolt of cloth.  People may choose—tragically—to leave the visible communion of the Church, but no priest or deacon or lay person can push them out or cut them off.  Ironically, those who argue for others to be cut off from the Church because they don’t hold authentic Catholic doctrine are themselves in violation of sound Catholic faith.  So let the weeds grow alongside the wheat and God will figure it out.   

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