To Change the Church image

To Change the Church

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Ross Douthat's new book, To Change the Church, is remarkably gripping. Books about the papacy, I assume, usually aren't, but the story is both so significant if it is true (Francis is trying to establish a truce between Roman Catholicism and the sexual revolution, in ways that many more conservative Catholics believe is dangerous and indeed impossible), and so well-told (as well as being a conservative Catholic himself, Douthat was the youngest ever columnist hired by the New York Times, so he can write), that the book is a great read. My Mere Fidelity colleagues had a discussion with him about it recently, which you can listen to below. In the meantime, here's what I regarded as the rhetorical and argumentative highlight of the book. In comparing the current crisis to the Arian controversy, it should give you an idea of how few punches he pulls in telling the story:

From the conservative perspective, all [the] elements of the Arian controversy are also present in today’s confusion. In liberal Catholicism as in Arianism you have an interpretation of the faith that seems tailored to the reasonable person, the moderate and balanced mind, and that the leading authorities of the age tend to favor over more traditional ideas. In liberal Catholicism as in Arianism you have a set of positions and aspirations that keep being proposed despite clear and authoritative condemnations—from the Council of Nicaea in the Arian case, from John Paul II and Benedict in the case of the reforms favored by progressive churchmen today. In the present controversies as in Arianism you have an attempt to use ambiguous formulations to do an end-around, to shift teaching without a frontal confrontation with the dogmatic roadblocks, to be “faintly precise” and “decently ambiguous” to coax the orthodox along.

Finally, with Pope Francis’s interventions on behalf of the liberal side, the division of the bishops and the simple silence of so many, you have a case not unlike the situation facing figures like Athanasius—where for orthodoxy to win out, it must do so against long odds, in defiance of seemingly authoritative proclamations, without (at certain moments) the clear support of the pope himself. The various synods summoned to push Arianism offer a precedent for the two synods on the family. Athanasius and his fellow troublemakers offer a precedent for Burke’s resistance, for the letter from the thirteen cardinals, for the dubia, for all the objections raised by conservative bishops and theologians to Amoris and its interpretations. And the Athanasians’ eventual success, the victory of orthodoxy and the defeat of Arianism, is the template for the victory that today’s conservatives hope for and expect.

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