What explains the apparent lack of political sanity among Catholics? Where is the survival instinct? For liberal Catholics, the answer is easy: Catholicism isn’t their tribe, and they’re wrecking it in obedience to their true object of loyalty. Orthodox Catholics, on the other hand, believe the Church is indestructible, in which case she may be confronted with sinners and heretics but never by a true existential enemy. They thus resemble in political ineptness the Gnostics, as described by Voegelin, who forget the contingency of their social order’s existence, retreat into an essentialist dream world, and respond to exterior threats with ineffectual virtue-signaling. Now, orthodox Catholics do realize that the Church’s destruction is a logical possibility, but it is not considered a real possibility because Jesus Christ has supposedly promised that it will not happen, and thus will presumably act to make sure it doesn’t happen.
Catholics who believe this can point out how limited this promise really is. It may happen that Catholicism will be wiped out from whole continents and never return. It may be that 99.99% of the laity and all but one bishop will apostasize. It may be that even those Catholics that remain shall despise all past generations of Catholics and shall devote all their energies into showing their enthusiasm for democracy, the Founding Fathers, and the Muslim settlement of Europe, just so long as the one bishop maintains an embarrassed formal adherence to orthodoxy. In other words, like the Sibyl whom Apollo cursed to continue aging but never die, survival might not take the form any of us would recognize or want.
This confidence, such as it is, is based on the doctrine of the Church’s “indefectibility”. Indestructibility is one aspect of this; the other is that the Church will not alter any of its essential characteristics between now and the Second Coming. Nearly all of the discussion I have found on this doctrine focuses on the second point, which has been an issue of contention when Protestants or others claim that the Church has altered fundamentally from its pure, Apostolic beginnings. Our interest is in the first claim, because existence is not an essential property of the Church (or of any other being except God). Much rests on this assurance.
In principle, the Church is a fragile organization. If the historical truths she teaches were forgotten, they might never be recovered. Even if the belief system of Catholicism were preserved for future discoverers, if the Apostolic succession were broken, it could never be recovered, and the sacraments (except baptism and marriage) would be lost with it. Historically, Catholicism seems to be a fragile religion; it has nearly always been imposed from the top down by a converted king or conquering army, and it cannot long maintain the loyalty of its people unless it is an established Church. It is not a popular religion that inspires loyalty in its adherents, as do Islam, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Judaism.
The claim, though, is that Christ will preserve His Church. Not only the Church in Heaven and Purgatory, but also on Earth.
Biblical citations in favor:
Matthew 16:18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
Matthew 28:20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Luke 18:8 And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?
The Bible itself hardly warrants strong confidence. The first citation is pretty flimsy because Jesus’ worlds must be read in an unnatural way. Hell’s “gates” would be for defense or imprisonment, not attack. The natural reading is that Hell will be unable to hold those souls that Jesus, acting through or on behalf of His Church, decides to liberate (the patriarchs in Limbo, or souls predestined to baptism, perhaps). The second passage is stronger evidence. It presumes that Jesus refers to the Church and not just the Apostles present, and it presumes an interpretation of “end of the age”, but these are natural readings. However, we should be humbled that the Church has not been given stronger assurance than the King David’s monarchy, nor than Jesus’ contemporaries who seemed to be promised they would live to see the Second Coming; God delights in fulfilling His promises in unanticipated senses.
Catholics are fortunately not limited to the bare words of the Bible. The Church’s presumption of her own indefectibility, the fact that she reads the scriptural evidence in this way, is itself strong evidence in its favor. Even here, though, we should be wary, because the Church’s focus seems to be on her inability to suffer “essential” corruption, not her indestructibility per se. Therefore, this doctrine may be open to re-specification development (perhaps a combined respecification/agnosticizing: backing up from X1 to X). Following my own guidelines, if I do think this would be a valid development, I shouldn’t say so, and I certainly shouldn’t argue for it.
Imagine, as a thought experiment, that the Church is not indestructible. This could be true even if the Church’s doctrines are true, God is omnipotent, and the Church’s sacraments are effective. If the Church can cease to exist, then, given a long enough expanse of time, it almost certainly will cease to exist. The Church will die, meaning the collective “we” will cease to exist. Whether this happens in 1000 years, in 200 years, or in 50 years, though, may depend on our actions and those of the enemy. To think this way is to think politically.
Filed under: Uncategorized |