Community of believers
Despite the fact that there are many “Episcopal-wannabes,” the Church has drawn a line in the sand, beginning with John Paul II, who purged all the “liberation theologists” from the hierarchy, and most recently, with the appointment of one of the College of Cardinals’ most conservative members to the Papacy. Despite all of those who would dilute the faith, those who seem to think the Church is a democracy, the Vatican has stood firm, and if anything, become more conservative. There may be a shortage of seminarians (though this shortage didn’t exist until Vatican II) in the US, but there is no shortage of worshippers.
In the meantime, so-called “mainstream” Protestant churches have been bleeding members, and their church attendance is evaporating. Fundamentalist churches, on the other hand, are alive and well — like Roman Catholicism.
Some might be tempted to assume the reason for this difference is political conservatism. Some might say it is religious conservatism. I don’t believe politics has much to do with it. And I believe the cause is more fundamental than mere religious conservatism.
It is impossible to miss the modern emphases of “mainstream” Protestantism. Inclusivity. Warm fuzzies. Self-esteem. Gender neutrality. Diversity. Multiculturalism. Evernything, in fact, but faith. Some large mainstream denominations even come out and say on their television commercials that they don’t care what you believe (the fact that they feel they need to do television commercials is itself a statement, but I won’t go into that here). The closest they come to faith is a very chic and trendy pantheism.
The result of this is that there are Ango-Catholic parishes that have reunited with both Roman Catholicism and the Orthodox. These were those who still believed that the Church existed as a community of believers, and not as some kind of group therapy session or support group.
Not being a Protestant, I was fairly shocked when we lived in Louisville in the 80s, when the ecumenical movement was at its most popular. I had always been under the assumption that Anglicans were pretty much the same as we were, theologically (with a few obvious differences), but then I met Episcopal priests who didn’t believe in the virgin birth, or the resurrection — and didn’t seem to understand why I thought that was a problem. I met priests who believed in the Mother Goddess, and wished their bishops would let them ordain women so they could do neo-pagan interpretive dancing during the liturgy.
Worse, and more to the point, their congregations knew these things, and didn’t seem to mind a bit.
The “mainstream” Protestants have lost their own reason for existence.
There are a few exceptions: the Missouri Synod Lutherans (the only Lutherans left, since the LCA joined with the Anglicans), a few Presbyterian groups who broke away from the national church when they joined the PC crowd, Episcopal parishes that are still with the Anglican Communion but are strenuously objecting to current trends, the Campbellite churches. But for the most part, “mainstream” Protestantism is lost in a mire of politically correct believe anything you want to believe we don’t care-ness.
Pope Benedict XVI is moving the Church away from the edge of that cliff. The Vatican wants the US to adopt a less “free and easy” English translation of the Roman Missal. Benedict XVI is a liturgist, and has indicated that he wants the Tridentine Mass celebrated more in the US than it is. The Vatican has reaffirmed its support of Humanæ Vitæ. And the Holy Father is a strong supporter of Opus Dei.
All this has the Episcopal-wannabes wetting their pants, of course. But they are free to leave the Church. Unlike some religions, Roman Catholics do not murder apostates.
One thing underscores this dissent within the Church, something that seems trivial at first glance. The Nicene Creed begins with Credo in unum Deum, “I believe in one God …” The free and easy English translation, used since Vatican II, is, “We believe in one God …”
The Mother Goddess crew is kicking up their heels about going back to “I believe,” instead of “We believe.” Saying “We believe” allows for a free and easy, collectivist interpretation, where perhaps “we” in some ethereal sense of “we” believe in these things, but “I” do not. Changing the Nicene Creed back to the correct interpretation throws the responsibility of faith back onto the individual.
We say the Creed every Sunday at Mass because we are a community of believers. Our faith, our shared belief, is one of the things that defines us — I would say the primary thing that defines us — as an ecclesiastical body in Christ. We do not say the Creed as some sort of tie to the past, nor do we say it just because it is part of the Ordinary of the Mass. We say the Creed because it defines our shared faith. And if that is to define our shared faith, then that means that all of us — each of us, individually — holds that faith.
But the “Episcopal-wannabe” Catholics want off the hook. They want to be like the Anglicans, with no faith. They want to be like those “mainstream” Protestants who advertise on television how inclusive they are, and turn the Sacrifice of the Mass into some great big group hugfest. They don’t want a test of faith. They don’t want to say, “I believe,” because most of them don’t.
The Vatican is doing exactly what they should be doing. They are drawing a line in the sand and saying, “This is who we are and what we believe.” And the gooshy-gooey neo-pagan Catholics will eventually have to question their faith, and ask themselves if they belong in the Church Apostolic.