I picked up this piece from the National Catholic Register. I beleive the author is associated with St. Mary’s in Greenville, SC, where the pastor, Fr. Newman, has been doing the excellent work of helping his parish return to ad orientem worship.
WDTPRS gives highest kudos to the goings on at St. Mary’s and the work of all the priests there. That said, let’s have a look at the following, with my emphases and comments.
Why America Needs the Pope
BY Father Dwight Longenecker
April 20-26, 2008 Issue | Posted 4/15/08 at 12:43 PM
The “three-legged stool” is the way Anglicans explain their understanding of authority in the church. The three legs are Scripture, Tradition and Human Reason.
At first, this sounds like a pretty good basis for making decisions. The difficulty, however, is that without a trustworthy external authority all three of the legs are shaky.
Scripture on its own can be used to prove most anything. Both sides have an interpretative tradition that skews the Scripture toward their pre-determined conclusions. The interpretation of Scripture is therefore dependent on the prior assumptions.
If you are in favor of homosexuality you interpret the Scripture one way. If opposed you interpret it another way.
The same is true of the other two legs of the Anglican stool. Tradition and Human Reason should be external forces that shape the minds and hearts of believers. Instead, the hearts are already determined and the minds are already made up.
Subsequently, Tradition is mined for evidence to support one’s case, and Human Reason is used as a tool to win debates, manipulate the evidence, weight the argument and twist the truth.
The result is not a three-legged stool, but a theological pogo stick. [A good analogy. Perhaps Card. Kasper could use it when speaking with the Anglicans.]
This is why Anglicanism is in such disarray. Extend the image: Think of every Anglican prelate, bishop, theologian and priest in a desperate race each on his own pogo stick. Each one is desperately jumping around trying to keep his balance, trying to stay on his pogo stick while at the same time trying to make forward progress and fight the other fellows in the race to the finish line. [Father starts by talking about Anglicans to make a point about what happens when the Petrine ministry is not given sufficient respect. Then he moves to Catholics.]
Lest Catholics be accused of smug self-righteousness, we have much of the same problem in the Catholic Church today.
Catholics of all stripes are devoted to causes of all kinds that they put before the authority of the Church.
The “Rad Traddies” have a whole range of causes and beliefs ranging from sedevacantism to enthusiasm for traditional devotions, right-wing causes and the traditional Latin Mass.
“Rad Trendies” have a whole range of causes from homosexual rights, women priests, Marxist theory and liturgical reform.
[The word "Rad" in here is a problem. It suggests an extreme. But I don’t think it is necessarily true that people who desire the TLM or "traditional devotions" are "rad". I certainly think that "sedevacantism" is "rad", but if someone is has a devotion to the Most Holy Rosary, is he "rad"? Probably not. Also, I am a little disturbed by the moral equivalence the author sets up here between, on the one hand, the TLM and traditional devotions (both of which are legitimate things – nay rather – recommended to a certain extent by the Successor of Peter, and on the other hand, women priests (impossible and wrong), Marxist theory (wrong and probably wicked) and, at least in its more deviant form, homosexual rights. I admit that sedevacantism is off the tracks, but it is simply wrong to set up moral equivalence between these two sets by calling them both "extreme" or "rad".]
Both ends of the extreme (and lots of people in between) are sincere people. [This sounds a bit like a handful of dirt being thrown in both directions.] They are prayerful people. They all believe they are led by the Holy Spirit. They wholeheartedly believe that Scripture, Tradition and Reason are on their side. But they have all fallen into the Anglican error of using Scripture, Tradition and Human Reason as a resource for proof texts, precedents from the past and sensible reasons for support of their particular cause. [?]
So the proof texts fly. The examples from the past are presented. The rationale is explained and the reasoning laid out, but no one is convinced. All that happens is that both sides return to their corner, gather their arguments and wait for the bell for the next round.
This is why the modern Church so desperately needs, not a three-legged stool, but the Chair of Peter. [Did the author just pit a lot of people against what he considers is the true role and nature of the Petrine ministry?]
The Chair of Peter has four legs: Scripture, Tradition, Human Reason and I would add, Facts — Common Sense. On top of these four legs is the seat into which they all fit, and this — to extend the metaphor — is the magisterium. The magisterium is the united, continuous, living, universal teaching authority of the Catholic Church.
The magisterium keeps Tradition, Scripture, Human Reason and Facts together and in balance. The magisterium prevents Scripture, Tradition and Human Reason from becoming proof text mines for people with preset agendas.
To show that the Chair of Peter is not simply a museum piece, someone sits on it: the pope, [Pope Benedict?] the successor of Peter. The reason the pope is so important to modern Christianity is because he is one person who, through depth of knowledge, breadth of vision, wealth of advice and expertise, can see the big picture. [This Pope, at least.]
The pope’s authority transcends vagaries of individual fashion, time and political expediency. The pope’s authority transcends local pressures, intellectual trends, moral dilemmas and subjective social opinions. There is simply no other authority system in the world that is universal in such an expansive and objective way.
This is why, as the Holy Father leaves America after his short visit, Americans need the Holy Father. We need him because he helps us transcend America. He helps us realize that there is something bigger than ourselves; something greater than our great nation. [From Anglicans, to Catholics, and now to Americans? or American Catholics?]
He gives us a universal perspective — universal in time and universal in place. The Holy Father’s authority transcends our isolated and narrow-minded political correctness, our petty relevant religious agendas, our private views of “how the Church should be,” our individualistic opinions on Catholic morality and our private views on Church doctrine. [If those views are not in fact shaped in reference to the Church’s Magisterium, Scripture and Tradition, right. However, I get the sense there is a bit more room in each direction than the author perhaps wants to accept. Perhaps I am wrong about this. Moreover, I don’t think that desiring the older form of Mass, according to Summorum Pontificum and Ecclesia Dei adflicta, is a descent into the ditch of "petty relevant religious agendas". I don’t see a desire for traditional devotions, even in parishes, as a "private view of ‘how the Church should be’".]
Submission to the bishop of Rome is not subservient toadyism. Through submission to the pope we gain an expansive perspective. We see history, and our place in it from a wide panorama.
Living in continuity and community with the pope is to build our house upon a rock. It is to transcend our blinkered vision and glimpse the larger world and the greater plan. In short, to submit to the authority of the pope is not to place ourselves beneath the feet of a tyrant, but to sit on the shoulders of a giant.
Father Dwight Longenecker
is chaplain to St Joseph’s Catholic School
in Greenville, South Carolina.
The late Msgr. Richard Schuler used to say, "You can go into the ditch on either side of the road, right or left. Either way, you’re in the ditch."
For the most part, Father seems to be expressing the same sentiment and I entirely agree. Leave the Barque of Peter, you are in the drink. Leave the road mapped by the Church with the Vicar of Christ, and you stray into dangerous wilderness.
But the road we can follow, though not without its limits is actually pretty wide. I suspect it may be a little wider than the author thinks.
The folks on the extremes, the true extremes, are careening into the ditch if they are not there already. These are the folks who have what I call not tunnel vision, or as the author calls it "blinkered view", but funnel vision – they not only refuse to see what is to either side of them, take what they could see and make it as narrow as possible.
Is it possible that the author is applying a kind of funnel vision to this fabled center of the road where proper unity with Peter is found?
Father’s description may not take into consideration that people can both desire the TLM (without bizzare ideas about the intrinsic evil of the Novus Ordo), or desire traditional devotions (I am partial to Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament myself) and still be properly Catholic. On the other hand, people may want to embrace liturgical reform (at least properly understood – excluding illegitimate creativity, etc.), or homosexual rights (at least properly understood – excluding acts against nature, etc.), and still remain Catholic.
People who want the TLM and those who defend the authentic rights of homosexuals (just as an example) are not extremists. They are simply Catholic, a wide and welcoming reality.
When you start pressing these issues to the point where the only valid Mass must be the TLM, or that homosexuals should be able to marry and adopt children, then I will stipulate that the ditch is pretty darn close.
But if you narrow the road we can walk to the point where legitimate differences are squinted at, then you turn the road itself into a ditch.
I don’t want to hammer this article.
Father makes good points, chief of which is that if we separate ourselves from Peter, we are in serious trouble. There is no doubt about that.