A Social Religion by Frank Sheed

I have been finishing reading Theology and Sanity by Frank Sheed.  It has been a long chore because he is taking my mind to heights I did not realize we would ascend when first we set out.

The following is a section called “A Social Religion” which I found fascinating enough to post.  Why this section and not others probably more worthy?  Not a clue.  Perhaps because my old Protestant individualist thinking still holds sway in some areas and therefore this section impacted me particularly.  Whatever the reason, it seems a good reminder to Catholics in an individualistic religious culture.



Looking at man, almost the first thing we see about him is that he is not an isolated unit independent of others, but a social being bound to others both by needs which cannot be satisfied and by powers which must remain unused save in relation to other men.  It would be strange if God, having made man social, should ignore the fact in His own personal dealings with man.  To treat man as an isolated independent unit would be as monstrous in religion as it would be in any other department of human life.  It would be to treat man as what he is not.  But the one being who would not be likely to do that is God, who made man what he is, and made him so because that is what He wanted him to be.  A religion which should consist in an individual relation of each person directly to God would be no religion for man.  A social being requires a social religion.  Within that social religion the individual will have his own religious needs and experiences, but they will be within and not external to, or a substitute for, his approach to God and God’s approach to him in union with other men.

Individualist religious theories there have always been, even among Christians.  They have never been able to carry out the full logic of their individualist theory because their nature as men stood too solidly in their way.  Something in religion that have had to get from other men.  So the Bible Christian, despising the priesthood and minimizing the Church, has yet had to fall back upon the Bible, and the Bible, although it is given to us by God, is given through men, the men who under His inspiration wrote it.  A religion wherein the soul finds and maintains a relation with God with no dependence upon men is impossible, and what makes it impossible is the nature God gave man.  The only question then is whether religion shall do its very utmost to elude the social element in man’s nature, accepting only so much as it can by no possibility avoid; or whether it shall wholly accept and glory in the social element as something given by God, something therefore to be used to the uttermost in religion as in the rest of man’s life.  In giving man the religion of the Kingdom, God showed what His own answer is.

Christ did not leave His followers free at their discretion to form their own groups if it seemed good to them or to remain isolated if it seemed good to them.  He banded them into a society, a Church.

“He gave Himself for us, to ransom us from all our guilt, a people set apart for Himself.”

What the Jews had been, the Church now is.  We remember Moses’ words:

“This is the blood of the covenant.”

But now we have Christ’s words:

“This is My blood in the new covenant.”

There is a new covenant and a new people: not just millions of redeemed individuals: a people.  The brotherhood of every Christian with Christ involves the brotherhood of all Christians with one another.  His normal way of giving them His gifts of truth and life was to be through the society: in other words, the whole Christian life was not to be a solitary relation of each soul to Christ, but of each to all in Christ, this is what the Apostles’ Creed means by the Communion of Saints.  In solidarity with other men we fell in Adam and rose again with Christ; in the same solidarity we live the new life.

God can and does give this or that man what he individually needs.  But the great needs of the soul are not peculiar to the individual, but the same for all.  There is the need for the Life which Christ came that we might have more abundantly; and the need for Knowledge—knowledge of what God is and what man is, and of the goal of life and how we are to attain it.  It is through the society that God offers men the spiritual gifts by which these needs common to all are supplied.  The relation of Christians with one another is essential in their relation with Christ.  They are related to Him not one by one, but in virtue of their membership of His Kingdom.

–Frank Sheed, Theology and Sanity; chapter 21 Dispensing the Gifts, section 1


Bishop Robert Barron discusses College Campus “Safe Spaces”

He contrasts it with the university style in the High Middle Ages with its quaestio disputata (disputed question).


“Can I suggest that Thomas Aquinas’ method from the Middle Ages does represent a kind of ‘safe space’ for argument; but a safe space for serious adults and not for timorous children.  And might I further suggest its not a bad method for our own engagement of these public questions.”

“The Survivor” by Phil Keaggy – a song for children in the womb

The March for Life in Washington D.C. is this Friday January 22, 2016.  For that I found it fitting to post this pro-life song “The Survivor” by Phil Keaggy.

The lyrics revolve around the words of Psalm 31:13-14 and apply them to a child in the womb, wondering what is happening and professing trust in God for deliverance.

G.K. Chesterton said, “If there is one thing worse than the modern weakening of major morals, it is the modern strengthening of minor morals. Thus it is considered more withering to accuse a man of bad taste than of bad ethics. Cleanliness is not next to godliness nowadays, for cleanliness is made an essential and godliness is regarded as an offence.”

Commenting on this quote, Dale Alquist said: “Chesterton can see from a century ago that the world was headed to a time when smoking a cigar would be considered more offensive than performing an abortion.”

Actions have consequences and actions are a product of our values and beliefs.  A culture so antagonistic to human life will bring the antagonism of life upon itself.  May God end the evil of abortion.

Catholicism and “slavery of the mind” from Catholics

These quotes remind of something an older Catholic told me. He had flitted around several denominations searching.  We were eating donuts after Mass and I was asking him about his conversion.  Among other things, he told me he was finally in the realm of absolutes and not opinion.  There was a definite Church with definite teaching.

Chesterton Cathooic Church wiseI have chosen the subject of the slavery of the mind because I believe many worthy people imagine I am myself a slave. The nature of my supposed slavery I need not name and do not propose specially to discuss. It is shared by every sane man when he looks up a train in Bradshaw.* That is, it consists in thinking a certain authority reliable; which is entirely reasonable. Indeed it would be rather difficult to travel in every train to find out where it went. It would be still more difficult to go to the destination in order to discover whether it was safe to begin the journey. Suppose a wild scare arose that Bradshaw was a conspiracy to produce railway accidents, a man might still believe the Guide to be a Guide and the scare to be only a scare; but he would know of the existence of the scare.

— G.K. Chesterton, The Thing

*(Bradshaw was a railway guide.)


Turn now to the Catholic Church. Here is a Society whose function it is to preserve and apply the teaching of Christ; to analyze it and to state it in forms or systems which every generation can receive. For this purpose, then, she draws up not merely a Creed—which is the systematic statement of the Christian Revelation—but disciplinary rules and regulations that will make this Creed and the life that is conformable to it more easy of realization, and all this she does with the express object of enabling the individual soul to respond to her spiritual environment and to rise to the full exercise of her powers and rights. As the scientist and the statesman take, respectively, the great laws of nature and society and reduce them to rules and codes, yet without adding or taking away from these facts, that are true whether they are popularly recognized or not—and all with the purpose not of diminishing but of increasing the general liberty—so the Church, divinely safeguarded too in the process, takes the Revelation of Christ and by her dogma and her discipline popularizes it, so to speak, and makes it at once comprehensible and effective.

What, then, is this foolish cry about the slavery of dogma? How can Truth make men anything except more free? Unless a man is prepared to say that the scientist enslaves his intellect by telling him facts, he dare not say that the Church fetters his intellect by defining dogma….

But the Catholic system has the appearance of enslaving men? Why yes; for the only way of aiming at and using effectively the truth that makes us free is by bringing into captivity every understanding to the obedience of Christ.

–Robert Hugh Benson, Paradoxes of Christianity

Does Friendship with Christ equate to determining doctrine?

In discussions on the Biblical and historic case for Roman Catholicism, friends and family almost always rest their position on their personal relationship with Jesus. It is defended so enthusiastically that I seriously wonder whether the next generation will not profess sola scriptura but rather sola my personal relationship with Jesus because He will lead me into all truth. Will the next generation even want the Bible?

This dynamic has made me wonder about what a personal relationship with Jesus should mean? Does having a personal relationship with Jesus automatically equate to knowing true doctrine?

Enter Robert Hugh Benson.

In his book The Friendship of Christ, he wrote about the danger and responsibility of attaining an intimacy with Christ. In chapter IV he wrote this.


RobertHughBensonOf course, since every advance in spiritual life has its corresponding dangers — since every step that we rise nearer to God increases the depth of the gulf into which we may fall — a soul that has reached the stage of the Illuminative Way which we have called Ordinary Contemplation (and which is, in fact, the point at which the State of Union is reached) has an enormous increase of responsibility. The supreme danger is that of Individualism, by which the soul that has climbed up from ordinary pride reaches the zone in which genuine spiritual pride is encountered, and, with spiritual pride, every other form of pride — such as intellectual or emotional pride — which belong to the interior state.

For there is something extraordinarily intoxicating and elevating in the attaining of a point where the soul can say with truth, “Thou lightest my lamp, O Lord.” It is bound, in fact, to end in pride unless she can finish the quotation and add, “O my God, enlighten my darkness!” Every heresy and every sect that has ever rents the unity of the Body of Christ has taken its rise primarily in the illuminated soul of this or that chosen Friend of Christ. Practically all the really great heresiarchs have enjoyed a high degree of interior knowledge, or they could have led none of Christ’s simple friends astray. What is absolutely needed, then, if illumination is not to end in disunion and destruction, is that, coupled with this increase of interior spiritual life, there should go with it an increase of devotion and submission to the exterior Voice with which God speaks in His Church: for, notoriously, nothing is so difficult to discern as the difference between the inspirations of the Holy Ghost and the aspirations or imaginations of self.

For non-Catholics it is almost impossible to avoid this elevation of self, this reliance upon interior experience — those elements in fact which still keep Protestantism in being, and still endlessly subdivide its energies: for they are aware of no such Exterior Voice by which their own experiences may be tested. But it is possible, too (as our own days shew), for even educated and intelligent Catholics to suffer from this disease of esotericism, to imagine that the Exterior must be avoided by the Interior, and that they are better able to interpret the Church than is the Church to interpret herself. Vae soli Woe to him that is alone! Woe to him who having received the Friendship of Christ, and its consequent illumination, believes that he enjoys in its interpretation an infallibility which he denies to Christ’s outwardly commissioned Vicar!

For the stronger the interior life and the higher the degree of illumination, the more is the strong hand of the Church needed, and the higher ought to be the soul’s appreciation of her office.

It is, we are bound to remind ourselves, from the inner circle of Christ’s intimates, from those who know His secrets and have been taught how to find the gate of the Inner Garden where He walks at His ease with His own, that the Judases of history are drawn.

Irenaeus of Lyons on self-made churches—non-denom and house?

Irenaeus of Lyon, from Wikipedia

Irenaeus of Lyon, from Wikipedia

“Wherefore it is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church,—those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But [it is also incumbent] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever, [looking upon them] either as heretics of perverse minds, or as schismatics puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory. For all these have fallen from the truth.” (Against Heresies, Volume IV, chapter 26, paragraph 2; A.D. 180s)

John Henry Newman and Historical Christianity

I just started reading An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine by John Henry Newman. Below is an excerpt from the Introduction (emphasis mine). Initially, I wanted find this offensive except it seems to match what I’ve already found. I can’t find much of my Protestantism in the history of Christianity.

Are there any Protestants who can show this quote to be wrong?  Or does the case need to be made that history doesn’t matter?


John-Henry-Cardinal-NewmanAnd this one thing at least is certain; whatever history teaches, whatever it omits, whatever it exaggerates or extenuates, whatever it says and unsays, at least the Christianity of history is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth, it is this.

And Protestantism has ever felt it so. I do not mean that every writer on the Protestant side has felt it; for it was the fashion at first, at least as a rhetorical argument against Rome, to appeal to past ages, or to some of them; but Protestantism, as a whole, feels it, and has felt it. This is shown in the determination already referred to of dispensing with historical Christianity altogether, and of forming a Christianity from the Bible alone: men never would have put it aside, unless they had despaired of it….Our popular religion scarcely recognizes the fact of the twelve long ages which lie between the Councils of Nicæa and Trent….To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.

And this utter incongruity between Protestantism and historical Christianity is a plain fact, whether the latter be regarded in its earlier or in its later centuries. Protestants can as little bear its Ante-nicene as its Post-tridentine period. I have elsewhere observed on this circumstance: ‘So much must the Protestant grant that, if such a system of doctrine as he would now introduce ever existed in early times, it has been clean swept away as if by a deluge, suddenly, silently, and without memorial; by a deluge coming in a night, and utterly soaking, rotting, heaving up, and hurrying off every vestige of what it found in the Church, before cock-crowing: so that ‘when they rose in the morning’ her true seed ‘were all dead corpses’—Nay dead and buried—and without grave-stone. ‘The waters went over them; there was not one of them left; they sunk like lead in the mighty waters’….But now, it would seem, water proceeded as a flood ‘out of the serpent’s mouth, and covered all the witnesses, so that not even their dead bodies lay in the streets of the great city.’ Let him take which of his doctrines he will, his peculiar view of self-righteousness, of formality, of superstition; his notion of faith, or of spirituality in religious worship; his denial of the virtue of the sacraments, or of the ministerial commission, or of the visible Church; or his doctrine of the divine efficacy of the Scriptures as the one appointed instrument of religious teaching; and let him consider how far Antiquity, as it has come down to us, will countenance him in it. No; he must allow that the alleged deluge has done its work; yes, and has in turn disappeared itself; it has been swallowed up by the earth, mercilessly as itself was merciless.’

–John Henry Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine

Sola Scriptura – Continuing Thoughts

A family member sent an email with a conglomeration of scripture references and issues.  This is part of a response to that email that I may or may not send.  It seemed relevant to what I’ve been writing about here so it seemed fitting to post it.  These are some more of my continuing thoughts about sola scriptura and the Protestant dilemma.

Let me lay out some issues.

  1. Protestants reject any “traditions of man” as being authoritative.
  2. Protestants reject the notion that a human spiritual authority exists that speaks for all of Christianity.
  3. Protestants accept only the Bible as doctrinally authoritative and only our own personal interpretations of what it says as pure, Christian doctrine.

Therefore, Protestants must prove Biblically:

  1. …what books should actually be in the Bible (since no one mere man can decide for me what is in the Bible).
  2. …where the Bible says there is no human spiritual authority that speaks for all of Christianity.
  3. …where the Bible says that the Bible is the sole doctrinal authority in an individual’s life.
  4. …the hermeneutic rules the Bible gives us to properly interpret the Bible (since hermeneutic rules are either “man-made” or “traditionally” accepted.)
  5. …where the Bible says my personal relationship with Jesus and my personal interpretation of the Bible is the foundation of Christian doctrine.

These are the sorts of inconsistencies I’ve come across as a Protestant.