The Catholic Thing
The Protestant Posture Print E-mail
By Bevil Bramwell, OMI   
Thursday, 17 March 2011

In anticipation of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Germany later this year, more than 200 German “theologians” have issued “The Church in 2011: A Necessary Departure.” In this laborious piece of prose, they explain how the Church has to change. The usual thing . . . ordination of women and so on! The imperative is theirs, based on the imagined “magisterium” of the university. This institutional conceit has been an issue since the sixties, although there have been attempts to try to link it back to the service of the University of Paris in the Middle Ages, when that institution was a center of research on questions that were posed by various bishops.

Something that the “Catholic theologians” – in inverted commas because it’s difficult to say how such freelancers are related to the historic Catholic Church – do not seem much to consider is that they are in a country with a Protestant majority. Perhaps such a national setup puts pressures on Catholic thinking when people do not take the necessary care to identify where they get their premises.

The classic case of course was Karl Rahner, S.J.’s insistence on the ordination of women based on the cultural argument that, if patriarchalism is dead in the culture, then women should be ordained in the Church. This might be plausible if the original choice of apostles was purely cultural. But if we take a step back to THE priest in whose priesthood priests participate, then we come to Christ himself and the non-accidental act of God in incarnating himself as a man, Jesus of Nazareth. Male priests express the male priesthood of Christ. Culture is more of a surface expression, while gender is ontological, i.e., it has to do with our very being. And in this case it is tied to the decision of God to incarnate as a male.

The word Protestant implies defining oneself in reaction against something. It imposes an a priori framework on the formation of concepts. The adversarial stance removes something substantial, namely: “All in the Church must preserve unity in essentials.” (Vatican II) This is not simply an authoritarian statement. Rather, it is authoritative because the truth is unitary and it exists in the “Catholic Church [which] has been endowed with all divinely revealed truth and with all means of grace.” (Vatican II) Of course, the German way is to approach this adversarial structure intellectually and to frame the challenge in an intellectual way.

         Some Catholic politicians (and theologians) encourage rot in the life of the Church

The Catholic situation in the United States is similar, but the response is different. It is not intellectual. Listening to Nancy Pelosi trying to teach our bishops about Saint Augustine or to Ted Kennedy seeking to impose the view of a narrow cultural elite on the Church about several questions, no one would be led to think that American Catholic dissent is intellectual. It is more a kind of spoiling action, a political muddying of pools, a way to introduce a little rot into the system.

It is still an adversarial approach, but it is deliberately – almost openly – subversive. It embodies a political strategy in line with the American fascination with politics. And it ultimately relies on the conviction that truth is merely political. The American approach lets some professors teach seminarians that the priesthood started in the fourth century or that a priest is just like a Protestant minister. The subversion is practiced because this kind of thinking fragments the Church and acts as a spoiler when the priest is in a parish. Bishops who allow such things to be taught in seminaries in effect leave problematic colleges for their successors to deal with.

The Protestant posture, if I may call it that, comes down to making the same mistake that Rahner made: confusing orders of reality. Rahner took the merely socio-cultural idea of patriarchalism and gave it an importance that is beyond its value. The accidental nature of culture does not supersede the essential nature of the human being. The discussion of the nature of the Incarnation is not about accidents, but about essences, divine and human. God does not act randomly. The Incarnation is a deliberate choice on the part of God. The choice was that the Incarnation would be as a male human being.

When we look at Pelosi and Kennedy’s words, they are confusing the ideas in their social circle with the truths of the Church. These are different orders of reality. The truth of the Church is the truth of Jesus Christ, and that is not to be pushed aside by the solipsistic thinking of an elite that comes and goes, and is remembered, if at all, only as a minor footnote in the history of ideas.

The scary side of American Catholics who choose the Protestant posture is how subversive they are in the different institutions of the Catholic Church. Like the German “theologians,” they undermine the function of the institutions. Like incompetents or embezzlers in a bank, they interfere with the institution’s ability to function. The bank loses its ability to do business and the Church is clouded in its efforts to speak the message of Christ clearly to a world that is, now beyond any reasonable doubt, faring poorly under a false Gospel.

Bevil Bramwell
, priest of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, teaches theology at Catholic Distance University. He holds a Ph.D from Boston College and works in the area of ecclesiology.

© 2011 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

The Catholic Thing
is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Rules for Commenting

The Catholic Thing welcomes comments, which should reflect a sense of brevity and a spirit of Christian civility, and which, as discretion indicates, we reserve the right to publish or not. And, please, do not include links to other websites; we simply haven't time to check them all.

Comments (8)Add Comment
written by Bill, March 17, 2011
A postscript. See the photo inserted above. Remember that TWO CARDINALS assisted in Mr. Kennedy's funeral: Cdl. O'Malley assisted at his funeral in Mass., while Cdl. McCarrick led the graveside prayers at Arlington Cemetery. What message does that send to the world?
Enough said.
written by Ars Artium, March 17, 2011
Prof. Hadley Arkes offered in a recent post the idea of looking at a question from a different perspective. God manifested himself as a man; He chose a woman to be his Mother. It seems a natural human tendency to undervalue the gifts one has been given and to exaggerate the gifts others have received. How much more blessed and holy it would be to reflect on the inner beauty of womanhood and its special, precious, divinely-given gifts.
written by Grump, March 17, 2011
Benedict would do well not to "play defense" against the German poseurs who are merely channeling Luther. You all know where I stand as a doubter, but the beauty of the Catholic Church is its resistance to modernity and all that goes with it. If the Church ever caves then it will lose a potential prodigal son in me.
written by Dave, March 17, 2011
The main problem with the spoilers, whether in the seminaries or the corridors of power, is that the bishops rarely take corrective action; and when they do, that action appears to be a day late and a dollar short, further demoralizing those in the Church, both clerical and lay, who seek to live integrally the Church's proclamation of the Good News, which is itself ever more reduced to the status of a cultural artifact rather than the perduring decisive intervention of God in Jesus Christ for the benefit of both humankind and the entire Creation.
written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., March 17, 2011
It is difficult to overstate how dire the situation has become in the West. The priest shortage has allowed the dissdents,many who are actually heretics to blackmail thier bishops into keeping them on because there is no one to repalce them with. Fr. Bramwell is quite correct citing the connection to Luther. In fact, we hear today even from the pulpit that Luther was right and that Church would have been better off to have listened to him. We even hear calls for Luther's canonization! Perhaps Pope Benedict XVI is right in saying that we might need to have a samller Church. After all, wouldn't be better for people to drive miles to see a real priest than to walk around the corner to hear both heresies and encougement to support pro-abortion politicians?
written by Achilles, March 17, 2011
Fr. Bramwell, thank you for another excellent piece! It brings to mind the damage the imagination has done since the fall (Belloc). Giving certain ideas “importance beyond its value” is at the root of our greatest errors.
It is striking the similarities between the university left and the dissenting traditionalists. (I am the biggest fan of tradition, just not dissenting). Both groups find themselves more perceptive, more discerning, more righteous and self assured. Both sides are very high on self esteem possibly even because they find themselves so humble in the face of such obvious material facts. Scott Quinn’s excellent example of false attribution, irrational zeal fueled by self arrogation of interpretative authority is very instructional. Both these groups tell us in no uncertain terms how dangerous knowledge can be when unrecognized idolatry is at the root of our wanting to “know”. The flawed anthropology initiated by Bacon and Machiavelli by such a small degree 400 years ago, as Aristotle tells us, has by small annual growth become a Frankensteinien monster. Ironically, no matter how much love we try to fill this monster with, it is a black hole and will only lead to destruction.
The world does not “take the necessary care to identify where they get their premises.” Many have mistaken the zeitgeist for the Holy Spirit, this is truly a tragedy! It is very appealing to be subversive today as we assert our personhood. Obedience is not fashionable today, but as ever, it is what is called for, first to the Logos, then to the truthful order of real things.
written by Aeneas, March 17, 2011
Thanks Father, for this great piece!

To Grump: Im pretty sure neither the Church nor B16 will ever cave, its not really in either of their natures. And to you personally Grump, I hope you do become the 'prodigal son', and in the end, find your way back to the Father. I have the bad habit of not praying for other people, I think I'll change that starting with you.
written by Fr. Bevil Bramwell OMI, March 17, 2011
Wow. This column generated some real thought. I cannot respond to everything. First of all the Church is not going to 'cave' because the Holy Spirit is at the heart of the Church. So nothing will prevail against the Church. Individual human beings will cave and we will be the worse off for it. But the Spirit will prevail. We might have to try harder to be saints in this storm but the Spirit will prevail.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters


Other Articles By This Author