Philip Jenkins’s The New Anti-Catholicism. The subtitle is “The Last Acceptable Prejudice.”
The book by Massa, a Jesuit, is both more searching and more eccentric than that by Jenkins, an academic at Baylor. After exploring fundamental philosophical differences between “analogical” Catholicism and “dialectical” Protestantism, he launches into five chapters about sideshows. These include televangelist Jimmy Swaggart and Jack Chick, the scurrilous and fabulously successful fundamentalist publisher of anti-Catholic comic books.
He finishes with a thunderbolt, however.
Massa looks at the Boston sex abuse scandal and asks the question, “What was it in the culture of the Catholic Church in Boston that made such tragically incorrect reading of the evidence possible?” In other words, why for certain bishops of the Archdiocese did “the good name and reputation of the institutional church and its representatives [outrank] all other considerations, even the safety of children”?
While the staunch pro-Catholic might argue that centuries of American anti-Catholicism forced bishops into a self-protective bunker, it turns out that, according to Mass, you really need to know the difference between analogical and dialectical.
This distinction was made over fifty years ago in a classic work by David Tracy, which I have not read but which is the foundation for Massa’s argument. The book The Analogical Imagination explains Catholicism as analogical, meaning that the divine is seen by Catholics as being actually present in the material. This means that God is present concretely, as in the sacraments. Creation, therefore, is good, “revelatory of the Holy.” The Church being “the body of Christ” means that community is key to salvation in the Catholic world view. We Catholics have a “fundamental trust in the goodness of persons and institutions.”
The Protestant—and I was one, and so in a way still am too—is dialectical. Luther, Kierkegaard, Barth, Niebuhr, Tillich—all Protestant thinkers—“insist on the radical difference separating” God and me. This implies that we humans are estranged from God, and must be individually saved. For our salvation, we depend not on a Church but on our individual reading of the Word, the Book, the Scriptures.
Catholicism, then, is communitarian; Protestantism individualistic.
Massa carries this distinction through the discussion like a carbon arc lantern: bright light from polarity. The failure in Boston, which it assuredly was, arose because Catholics have a tendency to “collapse” the analogy between God and man. We Catholics are too quick to assume that the Church not only represents the Kingdom of God, but is the Kingdom of God.
Massa writes in conclusion: “The best Catholic theologians always warned that the similarities that define the divine presence in the material forms evaporate if the tension between divine and material realities is collapsed into one: the Kingdom is not just the church; Jesus is not just the Bread; being born again is not just being baptized; repentance is not just going to confession. Loyalty to the church and its institutional needs is not always, in every case, loyalty to Christ and the Gospel.”
A final chapter, “The Last Acceptable Prejudice?,” answers its question with the title of a work by medieval theologian Peter Abelard, Sic et non, or Yes and No. It is essential, Massa says, that while the Catholic faith maintain its validly analogical nature, we Catholics not forget the critical importance always of being dialectical at the same time, of saying yes and no. Obedience to the Church? Yes. Blind obedience to the Church? No.
Of course, in this tension lies an infinite field of potential dispute. How obedient must you be to be truly obedient? That is a question that our parish is facing even today: Our pastor is being forced to resign to comply with guidelines of Archdiocesan reorganization promulgated from the cathedral in Boston. Is there anything our pastor should say about this? By the same token, is there anything we parishioners can rightly say? To what extent is the Church, and what it orders us to do, the Word of the Kingdom?
Hard questions. But then anti-Catholicism is a hard issue.