Three More Rules for Keeping the Dreaded Whore of Babylon at Bay
The ongoing story of a Catholic convert
In the first installment of my advice as to how to avoid becoming a Catholic, I suggested two rules. First, assume that all Catholics are idiots. Second, get all your information about the Catholic Church second-hand. Steer clear of Catholic intellectuals, well-catechized laypeople, and young, zealous, orthodox priests and nuns. Look for leftover aging, hippy priests and nuns, poorly catechized Catholics, and ex-Catholics evangelicals who have it in for the Church. And above all, don’t read the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
With those preliminaries out of the way, the next three rules have to do with history.
Rule #3: Avoid Being “Deep in History”
Blessed John Henry Newman, an Anglican priest and scholar who entered the Church in 1845 and was eventually made a Cardinal, quipped, “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.” And while it’s not a hard and fast rule, if you want to avoid the Catholic Church, do your best to avoid being “deep in history.”
Some history, of course, will do you no harm. Protestant history written by Protestant historians and the shenanigans of Borgia popes are good reading. But always assume that from the death of the last apostle until Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses to the door at the Castle Church in Wittenberg there is nothing important to learn. After all, if the Church centered in Rome was utterly corrupt, there is no reason to study it except insofar as its corruption led to the Reformation.
This will allow you to think about the Reformation in purely spiritual terms. It was a great spiritual revival that struck a dead, corrupt, and calcified Church, met resistance and finally broke free. That the renewal movement freed from its roots promptly hit the floor and shattered (and continues to shatter) into tens of thousands of smaller and sharper shards can be chalked up to there being “different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1Corinthians 12:2).
By keeping the focus on the spiritual, you can avoid questions about greed and the politics of Europe. Princes who were caught up in the fervor of revival also managed to enrich their treasuries and their friends by shamelessly despoiling churches and monasteries. Rodney Stark in The Triumph of Christianity notes that during Henry VIII’s Reformation-like looting of the Church, “from the shrine dedicated to St. Thomas à Becket alone, Henry’s agents confiscated 4,994 ounces of gold, 4,425 ounces of silver gilt, 5,286 ounces of silver, and twenty-six cartloads of other treasure—and this was regarded as a trivial portion of the wealth confiscated from the church.”
It’s legitimate to ask what the Church was doing with such wealth, but regardless of the answer to that question, the fact remains that the state engaged in er… “wealth redistribution” or “repurposing” or… let’s be honest, they stole it.
Which brings up another inconvenient truth. The Reformation allowed the rulers of Europe to achieve what generations of kings yearned for: the total subjugation of the Church to the state. As long as the Church was one and centered in Rome, it served as a counterweight to the domineering aspirations of the state. Controlling the Catholic Church proved exceedingly difficult. But once the Church was reformed and shattered into bite-sized bits, controlling the bits was child’s play.
Cuius regio, eius religio (“Whose realm, his religion”) meant that the princes of Europe could and did make their churches into departments of government and their clergy into government bureaucrats. Membership in the national church became a mark, if not the defining mark, of patriotism. Kings appointed bishops and other church leaders who became his ecclesiastical lap dogs. And dissenters, be they Catholics or free church Protestants, were persecuted and/or treated as second-class citizens in some cases well into the nineteenth century.