What Is Catholicity? Print
Thursday, 18 January 2007 20:22

Written by JACK

I have been participating as a guest blogger here at Intentional Disciples for coming on three weeks now and the experience has been wonderful. And has brought some surprises.

One of the things that I didn't expect was the reaction some would have whenever mention is made on this blog about Evangelicals or other Protestants or some of the things learned from observing their life. Don't get me wrong. I fully appreciate caution. If people were posting things like, "Look at this wonderful Four Spiritual Laws booklet that some Protestants use as an evangelization tool! Catholics should use that," I would be among the first to say, "no" (while making the hand motions of Mortimer, Randolph and Coleman from the movie Trading Places when Billy Ray asks if he should break anything else).

But nobody at Intentional Disciples is doing that. Instead, what we are trying to do is learn from experience. The phenomenon of Catholics becoming Evangelicals is real. We would be remiss if we didn't acknowledge it and ask why. And when you look at the reasons these individuals give, it isn't that they were looking for a church that demands less of them, that imposes fewer rules. Time and again, they focus on the fact that they encountered Christ in this new environment. That's what they identify as missing. And what breaks my heart is that it usually accompanied by a doubt about whether He is present in the Catholic Church. As I commented over at Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed, when Scot looked at the same Fr. Mendoza article that was mentioned earlier on Intentional Disciples: "I share the need and desire that many are expressing wasn’t being met in the Catholic Church, but I lament the judgment that resulted from it, because it resulted in their leaving the Church, where I know they truly could find that desire fulfilled and so much more."

Given that purpose, the real suspicion that some have of these references to Evangelical or other Protestant practices caught me off guard. And as Michael Liccione wondered over at his blog, I similarly wonder if it is a misunderstanding of what catholicity is, seeing what we are suggesting as "incompatible with affirming the truth of distinctively Catholic doctrine, especially concerning ecclesiology and the sacraments."

In my School of Community last night, we took a look at what catholicity is. The lesson left me with a lot to think about. Quoting, Henri de Lubac: "... a universal is a singular and is not to be confused with an aggregate. The Church is not Catholic because she is spread abroad over the whole of the earth and can reckon on a large number of members. She was already Catholic on the morning of Pentecost ... Catholicity has nothing to do with geography or statistics. (Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man)" And Luigi Giussani: "Catholicity [is] the profound expression of [the Church's] pertinence to human matters and all the variegated forms they take. ... Catholicism declares its simple correspondence with all that comprises man's destiny (Why the Church?)." And Karl Adam: "The Church is not one society or one church alongside many others, nor is she just a church among men; she is the Church of men, the Church of mankind (The Spirit of Catholicism)."

It is this sense of catholicity that allows us the freedom to look into a culture and acknowledge the truth that may be present there without fear that somehow we are compromising our Catholic identity. For what we highlight that might be true and good in these Evangelical circles, in truth, properly belongs to the Church herself. Giussani gives the examples of the early Christians' engagement with Hellenistic thought and the history of monasticism as great examples of what we are talking about. I know some may find the ground less comfortable here in that the culture that we sometimes are pointing out is one of a religious community, but our purpose and method of engagement is no different.