George Weigel’s Evangelical Catholicism, A Brief Review

Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church, George Weigel.

The Good Old Days may never have existed, but surely there were better days. Worse days, too. It is also not certain that these days are the best or worst days, nor is there any guarantee that only delights or horrors await us in the future.

Yet it’s hard to find anybody involved in the Church, and even those outside of it, who isn’t keen on reform. However it is now, most suspect, isn’t ideal. Things need fixing. Traditionalists desire antiquarianism and imagine “that the remedy for chaos and confusion…is a return to the Baltimore Catechism” without realizing “that the cultural circumstances in which [it reigned] no longer obtain.” Progressives suffer from “Catholic Presentitis—a lust for ‘relevance’ according to post-modern culture and intellectual canons”.

Weigel spanks both traditionalists and progressives and makes himself seen to be doing it early so that neither side can dismiss his pleas as partisan. But it’s clear that except for gently needling some ate up (that’s some military lingo for you) Lefrebvrist’s, “much more consequential” is the “psychological schism on the left (in which large numbers of Catholics have ceased to believe and process what the Catholic Church believes and professes, but have remained formally, or canonically, within the Church’s boundaries).” This is particularly so in Catholic academia where the game appears to be denying dogma in the cleverest way possible.

Weigel has directions for polishing every facet of ecclesiastical life, from catechism classes to pope picking. Some rubbing is gentle (“consider younger men for the office of bishop”, replace “trashy liturgical hymns”), some require more elbow grease (correcting the liturgical calendar to avoid “biblical insanity” and to insist butts are placed in pews when required), to still others which need (to complete the overworked metaphor) harsh rasps (insistence on celibacy, forbidding men “oriented” towards males the priesthood to avoid future abuse scandals, and to start talking like you believed what you were saying).

About that last requirement, here is a quick quiz. What is the common thread among these phrases, all in common use?

  • “Catholics believe abortion is wrong.”
  • “The Church teaches that Jesus was both man and God.”
  • “According to the catechism, salvation can only be found in the Church.”
  • “The Pope agrees that marriage is only between one man, one woman.”

None of these proposition contain a definite claim of truth. It might be true that “Catholics believe abortion is wrong” but it does not follow from this that abortion is wrong. Neither does it follow that marriage can only be one-biological-man, one-biological-woman because the Pope likes it.

If one wants to claim that abortion is wrong, then the best way to do it is to state, “Abortion is wrong.” That is clear, distinct, and unambiguous. If somebody asks why, it can be proved by saying (for example) “Abortion is the killing on an innocent human life and the killing of an innocent human life is wrong.” The basis for the argument is set.

If you want to claim the divinity of Jesus, then say so shorty. If it is true that salvation can only be had via the Church (i.e. the Body of Christ), then say it plainly—especially from the pulpit and in the seminaries. “It is not a truth for Catholics only, or for Christians only, but a truth that demands of its very nature to be shared with everyone.”

The central reason for the Great Divide, Weigel suggests, starts with the split on the gnostic line: knowable reality versus pleasant stories. “The most prominent example [of] the New Gnosticism is the sexual revolution, which sexualizes everything while concurrently insisting that maleness and femaleness are social constructs—not givens that reveal deep truths about the human condition”. This will ring true to any close observer. But if this is so—if sexuality is a social construct—one wonders where the social constructs arose. What were their templates? Nature? Biology? These can’t be so: they are denied. Skip it.

Weigel is a Big Name, so it’s likely his book will at least be noticed (but perhaps not read) by the Powers. Whether it’s heeded is anybody’s guess.

8 Comments

  1. Oh geez…

    How about getting to first principles, getting back to basics — consider the Didache, referenced in some of the earliest works and “recently” rediscovered. Its a sort of how-to manual for early converts/practitioners, writing perhaps as early as 50 AD, perhaps later…but still very early….whatever…it puts the emphasis on where it needs to be.

    Read it and note nary a peep about evangelizing & all that; nothing whatsoever about some institution & how that institution should or shouldn’t be–because there was no institution. Which just shows how unnecessary it really is to oneself.

    Emphasis is entirely on comporting oneself. Not looking outward & complaining about what everybody else ought to be doing different.

    Much like not judging & pointing out other’s issues when one has their own to deal with (see: Matthew 7:1-5, Luke 6:41-42)

    Some links to the Didache & its history:

    http://www.earlychurch.org.uk/pdf/didache.pdf

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Didache

    http://www.catholicplanet.com/ebooks/didache.htm

    IF everybody followed the basics articulated succinctly in the Didache (which are redundant to other authoritative references) everything else will take care of itself just fine.

  2. There’s nothing wrong with a sentence like “Catholics believe so-and-so”, or “We believe so-and-so”, as long as so-and-so is a non-verifiable statement. Nobody is going to say “I believe that there is only one sun in the sky”, for the simple reason that you can look up and see for yourself.

    Saying that something is a truth for somebody and not for somebody else is indeed bad form. You believe it is true, of you believe it is not true, which is equivalent to you having a consistent set of propositions from which you can show it is true, or you having a different set of propositions and you can show it is false. But what you cannot do is make observations showing it is true, or not true.

  3. Ken rightly recommends reading the Didache. But he says “there was no institution”. Hardly : “Elect therefore for yourselves Bishops and Deacons worthy of the Lord, men meek, and not lovers of money, and truthful, and approved; for they too minister to you the ministry of the Prophets and Teachers.”

    This early text is also of great interest, notably chapter V:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistle_to_Diognetus

  4. I read the book and donated it to our parish library. If I could I would buy one for every priest in our diocese. It is definitely a call to conversion for each one of us.

  5. I have been a fan of George Weigel ever since I read his biography of Pope John Paul II. Against the Grain was another real winner for me. Concerning the status of the Church, all I can say is that when only one in four believe in the main doctrine of our faith, we have made negligible progress in the 50 years since the council.

  6. I love the book and also wish I could afford to distribute many especially to those in the world of academia. My favorite phrase from the book is “baptized Catholic pagans”. How many of those do we all know within and outside our families.

    I was educated in a liberal Catholic university in the 70s. It is only by the grace of God that I am still a believing Catholic. Things at that university have only deteriorated since.

  7. If more Catholic intellectuals come up like George Weigel, I wish and pray. He is one through his books expatiate the subject unbiasedly and without discounting any element of faith.

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