The Catholic Thing
Trouble in Mind Print E-mail
By Francis J. Beckwith   
Friday, 25 April 2014

UPDATE: TCT’s Robert Royal and Fr. Gerald Murray will join Raymond Arroyo from Rome today on EWTN. Fr. Murray informs us the show will air at 4PM (and again at 10PM) EDT. They’ll be discussing Sunday’s canonizations of course. Check your local listings to be sure.

Senior Editor’s Note: Dear Friends, it’s our spring fundraising week, but I’ll come back to that in a moment. First things first: PLEASE! Take a look over to the left at Editor-in-Chief Robert Royal’s Canonization File. (As you can see, I’ve gone ahead and linked to it, but do come back to Prof. Beckwith’s column.) Bob is in Rome (watch for him on EWTN) taking in the spectacle of pilgrims and the majesty of saint making. Now the pitch: TCT has been in business since 2008. In these seven calendar years, it’s clear we’ve brought our readers some of the most reasoned, orthodox, and entertaining Catholic essays anywhere – whether in legacy media or on the Internet. Donate today to keep us afloat. Brad Miner
When the deeds that you do don’t add up to zero

It’s what’s inside that counts, ask any war hero

You think you can hide but you’re never alone

Ask Lot what he thought when his wife turned to stone
Trouble in mind, Lord, trouble in mind

Lord, take away this trouble in mind

Seven years ago this Monday, April 28, I was received back into the Catholic Church after spending nearly three decades as an Evangelical Protestant. As I have noted in several places, including my memoir Return to Rome and my contribution to the anthology Journeys of Faith, there were certain theological questions for which I needed plausible answers before I could be reconciled with the Church. At least that’s the way I initially understood my own pilgrimage.

But now, looking back, with the benefit of both hindsight and seven years as a practicing Catholic, I am convinced that finding answers to those theological questions, though certainly instrumental to my return, were shepherded by a deeper yearning about which I was not conspicuously aware in 2007.

My Christian faith had become, for the most part, an extension of my academic projects as a professional philosopher. There is, of course, nothing wrong with thinking of one’s faith as subsisting in an intellectual tradition that can be rationally understood, explained, and defended. After all, some of our most admired predecessors, including St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, not to mention one of the men who will be canonized on Sunday, St. Pope John Paul II, were Christian philosophers of the highest order.

But in my case, nearly everything about my beliefs had become a matter of making arguments and critiquing adversaries. My faith, or whatever was left of it, had become an intellectual research program, that now, in retrospect, seemed more like a perpetual exercise in convincing myself rather than trying to persuade others. I was like a man who, upon getting married, spent all his waking hours trying to be a good husband by reading books about matrimony, while neglecting his wife.

      False teacher?

I had embraced an over-intellectualized vision of the Christian faith that provided me with an endless treasure of critics to defeat and arguments to be won, but left me with an impoverished spirituality, sustained only by the cascading of anxiety and euphoria that accompanies philosophical pugilism.  For this reason, I often measured another’s commitment to Christ, not so much on whether they were Christ-like, but rather on whether they can without mental reservation agree to a list of “essential doctrines,” as if the first event in the afterlife is going to be a theology test.  I studied, defended, and protected Jesus, as if he needed my help. I didn’t love him.

Recently, I saw a bit of that old self in some comments by a well-known Reformed Protestant apologist, writer, and blogger. In an entry in which he declares that Pope Francis a “false teacher,” this author asserts: “Even while Francis washes the feet of prisoners and kisses the faces of the deformed, he does so out of and toward this false gospel that leads not toward Christ, but directly away from him.”

This “false gospel,” according to this author, is the Catholic view of justification, which, as I noted in a post, he clearly does not understand. But setting that confusion aside, ponder the message his judgment sends to his fellow Evangelicals as well as unbelievers who are reading him: Following Jesus by obeying his commandments is no way to lead people to our Lord. What you need to do is to convince people that your arguments are better than their arguments

That was me while I stood at the far shore of the Tiber. What I failed to grasp for many decades, and what the Catholic Church in fact teaches, is that the life of faith, like the state of matrimony, requires total devotion of body, soul, and mind. Being in communion with the Church is not reducible to a list of “essential doctrines” for which one can marshal a collection of apologetic arguments to match the challenges of unbelief. Although the Catholic intellectual tradition indeed offers to the world a reservoir of authors, insights, saints, and sages to satisfy one’s philosophical thirst, its accumulated wisdom pours out of the Church’s rich liturgical life

It is that life to which my deeper yearning had aimed. The sacraments and the sacramentals, the devotions and the prayer books, the Bible and the Breviary, are so much a part of my Christian life, that I cannot imagine myself without them. But it is not a piety of mere solitude. It is one tightly tethered to an understanding of the Gospel as lived out in the practice of the theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity. It is the gentle grace expressed in the out-stretched hands of the foot-washing pope.  And that is good news. 

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Comments (5)Add Comment
written by dove, April 25, 2014
I appreciate your honesty.
written by Craig Payne, April 25, 2014
One of the best short pieces you've written, I think---this really hit home for me. Best, Craig
written by Seanachie, April 25, 2014
Happy Seventh Anniversary, Francis. Not sure what a reformed Protestant apologist is or does, but an understanding of (and appreciation for) humility and servant-hood appears to be beyond his grasp. Perhaps the apologist is unaware or forgot Gospel accounts of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples (even a prostitute) and the apostles. If I am not mistaken, Jesus told the apostles to follow his example and to wash one another's feet. I wonder if the apologist is as judgmental of Pelosi's photo-op washing of feet with Episcopalian Bishop Marc Andrus at St. John Evangelist Episcopalian Church (San Francisco) during last Easter Week?
written by Myshkin, April 25, 2014
Thanks, Dr. Beckwith, for your further reflections on coming back to the RCC.

I noted that you didn't critique Protestantism, per se, simply your own appropriation of it. And of course the blogger you mentioned got a mild correction. But Protestantism, as you know, is a many headed creature. For example, both Amish and Mennonites put little trust in doctrinal beliefs, holding that only behaving as Christ gives one the right to call oneself a Christian. (One recalls the old story about a tourist asking an Amish farmer if he was a Christian. "Ask my neighbors," the Amish farmer replied.) Their sort of "show-me" Christianity eschews sacraments and what they term "externals". It is an extremely other-worldly belief system, that paradoxically insists on this-worldly behaviors to define itself.

It certainly emphasizes that "following Jesus by obeying his commandments is" THE "way to lead people to our Lord." And it does so without "externals" they see as simply inessential to the plain teachings of Jesus. And yes, the see the commandment at the Last Supper as simply a memorial meal without any metaphysical overtones. So, from what you write, why wouldn't a system like this appeal to you? What is it beyond this that they are getting wrong that we, the Roman Catholic Church, are getting right?

Doesn't it have something to do with the One Deposit of Faith being behind faithful action? Action on its own without the presence of the Apostolic Catholic Church can at best be only partial or imperfect. The Congregation For The Doctrine Of The Faith's Declaration "Dominus Iesus" says as much in n. 17. If this is true, then doctrinal concerns cannot be separated from "following Jesus by obeying his commandments" since it is only the Roman Catholic Church which has the authority to teach us what those commandments precisely are. Without orthodox theology, orthodox action becomes an futile pursuit.

Trouble in mind is inextricable from trouble in action when it comes to truly following Jesus Christ.
written by Paul, April 25, 2014
Happy anniversary to you also, I wish you all the best in the Church you feel The Holy Spirit has called you too.

I also look forward to reading your link regarding your journey after this post. I'm curious to see why you left in the first place. I assume it is a similar story I've heard before though. From my perspective, it isn't much of a change from leaving the HRCC and becoming a Evangelical Protestant or one of the other major denominations that split from the HRCC over the centuries. Of course, I understand a faithful member would disagree with this statement. These other denominations have similar beliefs that I find are in error from first century teachings.

Regarding Pope Francis, as everyone is aware end time fever is in the air and statements like "who am I to judge" only fuel the fire. Those who are more in the know understand this statement has to be taken into context but those who aren't see a false teacher. IMO, if "who am I to judge" becomes the catch phrase instead of "go and sin no more" the people he is trying to reach may feel they don't have to change. Well, hopefully I'm wrong and Pope Francis leads many people to Jesus Christ.

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