Continuing from the previous blog post on the Catholic classic, the Spirit of Catholicism- we continue to look at the introductory Chapter 1.
One of the questions that we are sometimes called to answer is:
“WHAT EXACTLY IS CATHOLICISM AND WHAT MAKES IT DIFFERENT FROM OTHER RELIGIONS AND PHILOSOPHIES?”
Many people THINK they know the answer to this question. Others admit they don’t really know because they see so many different elements in the Faith. Some people see it from the outside and it confuses them.
Those who THINK they know may look at all the different practices and prayers and other elements and quickly conclude that Catholicism is nothing more than an amalgam of things that got tacked on (illicitly in most cases) to what was a formerly pure and “Biblical” Christianity. They see in Catholicism
“the coalescence of evangelical and non-evangelical elements, of Jewish and heathen and primitive constituents, as a vast syncretism which has simply taken up into itself all those religious forms in which men have ever expressed their religious striving and hope, and has fused them together into a unity”.
We hear this quite often from non-Catholic Christians who have been raised in the traditions that reject the Catholic tradition.
In other words, they see Catholicism as a huge religion built by taking ideas away from other religions. When they try to imagine what the EARLY church was like, they look to the Bible and say that Catholicism has grown to something that no longer resembles the original primitive church.
Therefore, if the Catholic church LOOKS so different from the original Church, then it is “OBVIOUS” that the Catholic church “must” have been polluted by pagan practices and is therefore not fully Christian, that its soul has been corrupted.
This is a common claim against the Catholic Church but is it fair or superficial? For those who have dug deeper into the historical developments within the Church, a different conclusion must be drawn.
Karl Adam goes on to claim:
“We Catholics acknowledge readily, without any shame, nay with pride, that Catholicism cannot be identified simply and wholly with primitive Christianity, nor even with the Gospel of Christ, in the same way that the great oak cannot be identified with the tiny acorn. There is no mechanical identity, but an organic identity.”
In other words, it is fair to say that the Catholic church looks different from the early church and will continue to look different as the years go by. BUT those differences do NOT change or corrupt the core teachings of the faith. Instead, these changes and adaptations have grown organically out of the roots of the faith itself and serve to bring the Faith more alive and tangible to people in various places, times, and circumstances. The core teachings remain the same as God remains the same.
The Gospel of Christ would have been no living gospel, and the seed which He scattered no living seed, if it had remained ever the tiny seed of A.D. 33, and had not struck root, and had not assimilated foreign matter, and had not by the help of this foreign matter grown up into a tree, so that the birds of the air dwell in its branches.
To paraphrase the book: Despite this growth, however, Jesus planted the essential “DNA” for the church.
“For the Catholic is intimately conscious that Catholicism is ever the same, yesterday and to-day, that its essential nature was already present and manifest when it began its journey through the world, that Christ Himself breathed into it the breath of life, and that He Himself at the same time gave the young organism those germinal aptitudes
“which have unfolded themselves in the course of the centuries in regular adaptation to the needs and requirements of its environment. Catholicism recognizes in itself no element that is inwardly foreign to it, that is not itself, that does not derive from its original nature.”
Some people will set up false choices and say there are “contradictions” between the original church’s emphasis on faith versus the Catholic emphasis works, but these are invariably misunderstandings.
Even in purely biblical Christianity, and especially in Old Testament religion, one can see apparent conflicts. For example there is clearly a development of the understanding of God as the Old Testament progresses, for example the God of wrath versus a God of mercy.
But a correct interpretation requires digging deeper and cannot adequately be done from the outside looking in. In order to grasp the essence of Catholicism one has to move inside to see it also from the inside out. Only from that perspective can a person truly understand the essence of Catholicism, and not even the professional religious historian is limited. Says Adam,
To describe a thing is not to explain it
fully. And so this purely descriptive research calls for something beyond itself, for a
scientific investigation into the essential nature of Catholicism.
The Catholic of a living faith, and he alone, can make this investigation.
We will continue to explore this idea throughout the book.