From time to time most St. Blog bloggers reflect on prefix Catholicism and the inherent problems in those labels. Amy Welborn talks about it and writes something that I whole heartedly agree with.
I rebuke labels of “liberal” “conservative” “progressive” and even “orthodox,” because even that last label has political implications in the current climate.
…But as I work through various issues, my fundamental stance is, and must be one, of humility. I come first to Scripture and Tradition, asking what I can be taught, what I can and must learn from it, holding my life up to judgment, not judging it by the standards of my life. It is a dialectic, to be sure, but in the end, I cannot ever presume to look at Jesus on the cross, hear him speak to me through the Gospels, come to him in the Sacraments in any other stance but love, humility and openness to what he wants to teach me. It’s not the other way around.
I just finished reading Mark Shea’s By What Authority?: An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition and these thoughts have been on my mind. I had already come to realize that Sacred Tradition was an important part of the Church and reading this book I now see that it is totally fundamental to the Church. He described how as an Evangelical working to refute the Jesus Seminar and other modernists he came to understand the role of tradition. The abandoning of Apostolic tradition is what leads to so much prefix Catholicism and why there are an ever increasing number of Bible believing churches believing contradictory things. To attack one part of sacred tradition in order to interpret the Bible in a way that agrees with something that you advocate has repercussion beyond what they would intend.
Mark’s book demonstrated that much of what we believe to be a Biblical slum dunk is in reality totally confusing without sacred tradition. Apostolic tradition is the only Rosetta stone in which we can interpret the Bible. Using false Rosetta Stones like preference, fairness, modern culture leads to totally incorrect translations. Removing sacred tradition is like removing the bottom box of cereal at the grocery store; everything else falls apart. Where is the cannon of scripture without sacred tradition? When I first starting reading the Bible it was not within the mind of the Church. My own ideas and preference were interjected into the Bible as I converted what I read into how I could relate to it. I look back now laughing at all the errors and heresies that I recreated as I tried to read the Bible. Amy talked about humility in approaching scripture and tradition and I can see how much humility the Ethiopian eunuch had when Phillip asked him “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” It took me much longer to get to that stage and to find out that I needed to be taught. Through cultural osmosis even as an atheist I had picked up the idea that if you became a Christian that the Bible was all you needed to live by.
Many people get aggravated when someone takes a scripture passage out of context, yet they don’t realize that they have also taken the whole bible out of context. The context of the BIble is the Church that Jesus left us through the Apostles to teach us all things. If you read through the Catechism and find yourself saying yes to some things and no to others than you are saying the Church is just a human institution and can teach error. Flannery O’Connor famously said in relation to the Eucharist “If it is just a symbol, to hell with it.” I add if the Church is just a human institution, to hell with it. Obviously we have to make distinctions between what are true Church teachings like Purgatory and what are theological musings like limbo. Before coming into the Church there were many issues like contraception, IVF, and the Assumption of Mary that I was highly skeptical about. Once I came to believe that the Catholic Church was true and had the authority to teach, I was able to look at these issues and come to both accept and to understand why the Church teaches as it does.
Political labels to describe adherence to Church doctrines are inept. I hope to be liberal with my time, talents and money. I hope to be conservative to “maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you.” 1Cor.11 I hope to be progressive in that I only measure myself toward and and progress toward a goal of increasing holiness and loving God and Neighbor. That I am orthodox in adhering to and understanding what God teaches us through the Church.