The Faith Once Delivered

It is no exaggeration to say that Catholicism today, not only in America but across the world, resembles nothing so much as a gigantic pizzeria – one in which some people spend their days enjoying the pizza, and others complaining about just which parts of the pie they dislike most.

Now, imagine that the parlor doors swing open one day to let in a small but distinguished group of new patrons, all sharing the same gastronomic preference: they, too, are coming to enjoy the pizza rather than to disdain it. What do you suppose will be the likely effect of this group on the overall scene? Won’t it most likely please the already seated pizza-lovers, even as it gives the pizza-complainers a moment of pause as they witness this new group do something they think can’t be done – i.e., enjoy the pizza for what it is?

If you think the answer is yes on both counts, then you already understand more than many commentators about Pope Benedict’s bombshell October announcement, offering members of the Anglican Communion a new fast track into the Catholic Church. As Robert Royal noted in his column following the Vatican’s announcement (“Bold, Benedetto, and Bello”), this forceful stroke “confuses journalists who tend only to think in binary oppositions of left and right that maybe a whole other game is being played.” Now, weeks later, the commotion has only grown louder – a reaction worth inspecting as the pope’s move begins to re-write the next few centuries of Christendom.

As ever, outright anti-Catholics have elbowed their way to the front of the japery. Some have provided so much free entertainment following the pope’s announcement that a whole new awards ceremony should be designed to recognize them. In the category of reading world historical news through the most parochial lens possible, for example, the Los Angeles Times led a crowded field with this entry: “this religious realignment is also a reminder to supporters of equality for women and gays and lesbians that they must literally preach to the converted if they are to win believers to their cause.”

The skies were not much clearer on the other side of the country at the Washington Post. There Benedict’s announcement provoked what might be dubbed the inadvertent miracle award; it caused Richard Dawkins to wax lyrical about a Christian clergyman – specifically the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose “saintly quality,” “benignity of countenance,” and “well-meaning sincerity” he contrasted with that Gulag on the Tiber that “most deserves the title of greatest force for evil in the world.”

As for the blogosphere, where the traffic from anti-Catholics, un-Catholics, and ex-Catholics is busiest of all, so much sputtering has been occasioned by Benedict’s move that it might seem nearly impossible to single out any one entry for distinction. Fortunately, the Huffington Post volunteered itself. There, a female Episcopalian priest, disdaining the pope’s announcement, valiantly predicted an influx into the Anglican Communion of disaffected Catholics, and further reported that from what she personally had seen at the Vatican, “the clergy scene in Rome certainly seems very gay” – a statement that, considering the source, fairly cries out for what might be called a Kettle and Pot prize.

Even so, amid the showers of crocodile tears, there remains one other interested party about which little has been heard: religious-minded Anglicans themselves, who have watched with dismay for many years now as their liturgy has been trashed, their churches emptied, and their vaunted tolerance twisted by a-religious radicals into a rationale for jettisoning anything besides whistles and bells that smacked of traditional Christianity.

Charlotte Hays’ eloquent column on this site, “Outreach to the Homeless,” said it all: “It’s good I found a new home, because my old one no longer exists.” Similarly, as one former Episcopalian priest turned Catholic wrote in a letter to the New York Times – objecting to the paper’s umpteenth portrayal of believers like himself as simply bad on women and gays – “Priests like me are not reacting to polemics on the theological spectrum. It is the faith once delivered that we are after, which we pursue as an imperative of conscience.” Such personal testimony underscores the compassion of Benedict’s move. It also reminds that there have indeed been victims of what have come to be the teachings of the Anglican Communion – just not the ones that pundits reflexively hostile to the papacy have identified.

In his 1952 classic A Traveller in Rome, H.V. Morton writes sweepingly of the longstanding love harbored by English tourists of all times and varieties for the Eternal City, one that influenced their home country in a thousand and one imported ways. “Even today,” he reported from mid-century after surveying the tourists of decades past, “those who have been ruthlessly educated to be chemists and physicists, and to hold down important posts in commercial combines, descend from their coaches and gaze around upon the Roman scene, so dear to their ancestors, conscious maybe that there is something there to be understood and perhaps even loved.”

It now turns out that there is more understanding and love in Rome than even Morton in all his brilliance could have foreseen, including and especially for those Anglicans, English and otherwise, who are still searching for a faith that delivers. Their exodus into the pizza parlor will be bad for those want the place to be something other than what it is, and good for those who love it for itself alone. That’s why those in that second category should be standing on their chairs by now, cheering what may turn out to be one of the religious game-changers of our lifetimes.

Mary Eberstadt

Mary Eberstadt

Mary Eberstadt is a Senior Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute. Some of her previous The Catholic Thing columns (and columns by others in which her work is discussed) can be found here. She is the author of several books including It’s Dangerous to Believe and How the West Really Lost God.

  • Bradley

    We don’t know
    Benedict is the first Pope with 3 operative Latin Rites (Novus Ordo, Tridentine and Anglican). He is also the first to so formally validate core elements of a reformed tradition. Will his cafeteria of Mass rites corrode Catholic unity? Will married Anglican priests devalue RC celibacy? Will his acceptance of Anglican tradition legitimize other reformed traditions? The honest answer: we simply don’t know. I admire him deeply, though: he is a faithful risk taker and leaves the rest to God.

  • Richard Quitliano

    For everyone
    Doesn’t the word catholic, loosely translated, mean universal? Is it not, therefore, for everyone? I believe we should welcome with open arms everyone who wants what we have. We are all Christians and believe in the same God. Perhaps I’m oversimplifying, but perhaps it’s a simple issue.

  • Carl

    U ain’t seen nothin’ yet
    I believe converts are coming to help rebuild the Church after years of neglect. When one sees what the likes of Scott Hahn, Steve Ray and others, have been able to do in just a few years… one has to look forward to those coming in now as a force for renewal and a great witness. The Anglicanorum Coetibus was published on the anniversary of the falling of the Berlin wall. That was not mere chance… look to the East. Look to Russia. More brothers and sisters are coming from there soon.

  • Pio

    Check, please!
    The real test of orthodoxy is not whether we made it into the right restaurant. It’s what we do after we eat! I heard a priest give a talk on global poverty recently: a child dies somewhere in the world every 30 seconds from preventable causes. So while I rejoice that Charlotte Hays has found her home, I also give thanks for the many Episcopalians who (after presumably passing on pizza and eating hot dogs) work to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, cloth the naked and welcome the stranger

  • Carl

    Re: "Check, Please!
    Pio: the Catholic Church can be accused of many things but of lack of good works. In giving to the poor, the Church is by far the largest giver. Within her ranks, American Catholics are also by far the most generous. Forgive me if I correct your statement, that is good “orthopraxis” which is usually preceded by “orthodoxia.” I for one, became Catholic years ago because of the Church’s good example. Her generosity moved me to join the cause.

  • Pio

    To Carl
    Carl, my point is just the opposite. Holy Mother Church abounds in good works, but certainly does not have a monopoly. Episcopal (and many other denominations’) churches share in this pattern this generosity, sometimes in partnership with RC parishes. Any non-Catholic Christian with good orthopraxis shares, as our Church teaches, in a measure of orthodoxia. The “Kettle and Pot” example of the Episcopal priest is sad, really, but we all know RC priests of the same type.

  • Graham Combs

    How is it a gamble to welcome thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Christians of demonstrable toughness in faith? I became a Catholic this past Easter Vigil. The path to Rome will not be smooth — it wasn’t and isn’t for this former Anglican. If current criticisms of the ICEL reforms are an indication, some fear we will pour across the Communion Rail with our half-finished Bible and “elitist” Prayer Book, fouling the noble simplicty of the Mass. There will be conflict; pray for us.

  • Joseph

    Make mine pepperoni
    I’m not sure I buy the pizza analogy, but one supposes that the more you put on top the more people will complain. Pepperoni and extra cheese is great, but when you start adding pineapple, ham, olives and anchovies, then you narrow the taste. And isn’t that what we’re told to enter, the narrow gate, which few will find. Benedict’s “fast track” way of winning converts seems to skirt the traditional ways of conversion by instruction. Catholicism’s great appeal is an adherance to fixed truths.