A good Catholic on “bad Catholics”

4 08 2010

image source

People often say, “It is better to be a good Protestant than a bad Catholic.” That is not true! That would mean that one could be saved without the true faith. No. A bad Catholic remains a child of the family, although a prodigal, and however great a sinner he may be, he still has a right to mercy. Through his faith, a bad Catholic is nearer to God than a Protestant, for he is a member of the household, whereas the heretic is not. And how hard it is to make him become one!

-St. Peter Eymard, found here

When I was a teenager, I used money spent working in apricot orchards to buy the books of St. Peter Eymard for devotional use. So it is interesting that I re-encountered him again so many years later in the form of this quote.

I am no longer all that interested in the issue of who gets saved outside the Church, since it is hard enough to get saved within it. The more pressing issue for me when presented with this quote is the idea of who belongs to the Church. St. Peter sees the Church as a family, and even “bad members” are still members. In other words, he sees it still almost as a matter of blood or kinship. Now, we tend to see it as a matter of “commitment”. The person closer to Jesus is the one who looks like a “commited Christian”, regardless of actual affiliation. There is a certain Pelagianism at work here, one that exalts civic virtue (those which are useful for post-industrial modernity) over supernatural virtue (which can be at odds with it).



15 responses

2 09 2010

Arch. Aimilianos of Simonopetra said something on this topic in his “The Church at Prayer: The Mystical Liturgy of the Heart”:

‘…the church is our home. Our family is the gathering (synaxis) of the church. Our family is not simply our children and relatives, however many we have. It is rather all of us, all humanity, including all those who have turned aside to the left or to the right, or who have perhaps not yet even thought about God, or dared to admit that their heart is filled with cries and groans, and that, with these, they hope to open heaven, or that God will answer them, but they are hesitate and are ashamed. The Liturgy is our family, our gathering, our house. And what a spacious house it is! Together with us are those who are absent, along with sinners, and the wicked, and the dead, indeed, even those who are in hell, but who may yet remember something about God. And who knows how many of these will find relief, be drawn out of Hades, and even dragged up from the depths of hell, thanks to the prayers of the Church, her memorial services, and divine liturgies. This is our home. We believers have such a large house!’


26 08 2010

Thanks for acknowledging me as the source of that picture. I took it when I was in Paris, at a small chapel by the rue du Balzac. I am actually a member of the congregation founded by St. Peter Julian Eymard. It’s quite interesting for me to know that there was someone who got actually interested with St. Eymard. He’s relatively unknown, even in La Mure, France, his birthplace.

You can use my pictures of stain glass windows from my blog, if you want. They’re not of good quality though.
God bless you!

15 08 2010


I thnk the difference is that to most Catholics sin does not exist in their lives or else sin is reserved for murderers or thieves or persons not tolerant enought to meet their values. In the past persons were aware of sin. My dad who is 60 still attends mass most Sundays but does not go to communion, probably among only the handful of persons at mass that doesn’t. I attended daily mass the other day and overhead a wife urging her husband in his 60’s to go to communion. He said no I can’t, I got drunk last night. He understands sin and his status before OUr Lord. In the past person’s not living the Chirch’s teachings knew they were sinning. Persons publicly dissenting to the Church’ teaching knew they were sinning. Now we think we can ignore Church teaching, openly dissent on Church teaching or even blog to persuade or urge others to dissent and believe we are not sinning and join the communion line on Sunday Of course we want sinners, open sinners in the pews joining the rest of us sinners on Sunday. We just want them to join the confession lines on Saturday, confession their failures and repent of their dissensions and really try to live out the Church’s teachings. And really believe when we say Lord Have Mercy on me a sinner.

7 08 2010


“I have spent my entire life with other Catholics and I have never met one that thought he was a good Catholic. If fact all of them would tell you they were lousy Catholics but Catholics nonetheless. . . . Catholicism does not lend itself to self-righteousness.”

This is spot on, and I can say the same thing. Catholicism is all about the “Domine, non sum dignus,” while many (though not necessarily all) manifestations of Protestantism are all about the “Proxime, ego dignior quam te.” I think last Sunday’s reading from the Historic Lectionary (i.e. the Pharisee and the Publican) sums it up nicely.

“Civic religion emphasizes absolute behavioral conformity and groupthink over the historical mix of pharisees and publicans worshipping together at the same Mass. I rather enjoy my dalithood, as I will always be excluded from the Catholic civic cult.”

Sometimes, I wonder if the Civic Cult (neo-catholic or otherwise) is simply another manifestation of TULIP. They’ve traded all semblance of Catholic thought and Catholic sensibility for the lockstep/groupthink of the Orwellian state (which is probably their wet dream for the Church’s future), and have chosen that only those born and raised, or capable of adapting, their own narrowly-defined set of thought processes and ideals are capable of entering into their version of the kingdom of heaven.

On the other hand, there are those of us who simply never could and never will be able to adapt that narrow way of thinking, speaking, and behaving; for whatever reason. These are obviously predestined forever to be outside that eternal city, regardless of whether they’d received Baptism, how truly Catholic they are in their hearts, or what relationship they have with Our Lord and Our Lady. There are a lot of Zwinglian/Calvinist ramifications to this way of thinking, which is why I tend not to get along with neo-cons: for the most part, they’ve entirely abandoned the core of their Catholic Faith (those who were old enough to be taught it to begin with).

Arturo, in another post, you once said this culture was all about the cult of the “interior Catholic” or the “committed Catholic.” I know that’s what they call it, but I’d like to submit that the opposite is true. From reading their blogs, articles, and whatnot, it seems to be more about the exterior religion to these people, that they express their faith whether by fighting to overturn Roe, or by being seen attending daily services, or being seen as having an “interior life,” and so on and so forth.

Now I’ve met individual neo-cons who do in fact have a deep personal faith (though usually mangled via the Novus Ordinarian brainwashing machine, which by definition is what makes them neo-cons), but as a community I just don’t see much attention paid to the effects of Baptismal regeneration or the growth of the interior life, rather a show all about the exterior life and the appearance of fulfilling one’s duties. When spending any time around them, I get the feeling that it’s all about that grain of incense and little to nothing more.

6 08 2010
Arturo Vasquez


I don’t recall myself ever actually “cyber-excommunicating” people as “Catholic in name only”, “bad Catholics”, and so on. Disagreeing is far different from excluding someone from the Church, or even accusing people of heresy. I have accused people of stupidity, but stupidity is not heresy, though it is sometimes more unbearable to deal with.

As for my supposed ecclesiastical populism, I have said over and over again that it is a give and take. That’s all. I don’t necessarily endorse all of the things I speak of here, nor do I even practice them. (Again, I do not have an altar to la Santa Muerte, nor am I a spiritist, etc.) If you want to read this blog without any nuance and then comment accordingly just to score a few tu quoque points, go right ahead. I don’t pretend to convince everyone of what I think, and that isn’t even my intention. But if you want to use such attacks to justify your cyber-canonical kangaroo courts, just don’t be surprised if I call you on it.

6 08 2010

Wait, Arturo –

I thought you were anti-hierarchy? I thought your ideal of Catholicism involved the laity living and passing on the faith via devotional life that sometimes gets under the skin of the hierarchy and that the hierarchy want to suppress?

I’m so confused! You’re so mysterious!

Anyway, this kind of hand-wringing – hmm…Catholic cry-babies…? ..is, for an historically-oriented blog, pretty ahistorical. If the laity of the Middle Ages had been literate and had the Internet, you bet they’d be heresy-hunting among their own – and burning them quick, too with everyone checking in from Foursquare from the site of execution.

And as for holding other Catholics up for scrutiny..well this blog is the master of that, don’t ya think?

6 08 2010
Arturo Vasquez

Just because there is no longer an Inquisition doesn’t mean that lay people have to take it upon themselves to fill the gap in some way. In the Catholic Church, authority flows top down in a hierarchical manner. You can’t just usurp it if you think it is somehow necessary. You can’t just have some mock canonical trial in front of your keyboard and decide that so-and-so is no longer Catholic, so-and-so is a heretic, and so forth. Look how long it took them to burn Giordano Bruno at the stake. He believed in all sorts of crazy stuff, and did all sorts of crazy things, but the Church didn’t immediately ask lay people to pick up stones and drive the heretic from their midst.

In many ways, this modern drive by a select few Catholics to go heretic-hunting has more to do with the uncertainty concering their own beliefs rather than the flawed beliefs of others. If you want to complain that the Church hierarchy isn’t doing enough to shut down dissident Catholics (maybe they would want to shut down this blog, I don’t know), that is one thing. But to usurp that task upon oneself is entirely another.

6 08 2010

I have spent my entire life with other Catholics and I have never met one that thought he was a good Catholic. If fact all of them would tell you they were lousy Catholics but Catholics nonetheless. I would also add most of them were damn good people. Catholicism does not lend itself to self-righteousness. I thought that was a Protestant thing. I remember reading somewhere that Pope Benedict XVI recently stated that Catholics are part of the church by virtue of their baptism. I think the statment was in reference to all the defections to pentecostalism in South America. I guess you can classify Catholics:bad, good, fallen away but all are Catholics nonetheless.

5 08 2010

I hate to make an exclusive claim here, but I think this is the first generation that has seen lay people as exemplars and teachers of the faith, as a walking embodiment of Catholicism. More commonly this was attributed to Saints and to a lesser extent clergy. This is even beyond Sensus Fidei.

5 08 2010

Fr. Sean Finnigan has an article on this similar subject:


5 08 2010


It IS about the guy in the pew! I can’t tell you how many posts I’ve seen, with plenty of comments about “nominal Catholics” or “cultural Catholics” and they are referring to ordinary people, not leaders, teachers, or others of the illuminati.

5 08 2010


I think you slightly mischaracterize modern heresy hunting. Sure, there are some who study the Communion line to see who shouldn’t be there, but most of the distress about “CINOs” come from two places:

1) distress about Catholics who teach, preach in the name of the Church, who teach preach stuff contrary to the Church’s teaching or teach another Church altogether – and who lead people out of the church because of it. See the recent kerfuffle about a Fr. Breen in Nashville and a video he posted to his parish website.

2) Public Catholics – like Pelosi – who seek, in their own way, to “teach” and “define” Catholicism.

It’s not about the guy next to me in the pew. It’s about the school I’m paying 5K a year to teach my kids that being Catholic is nice but that’s about it. So you say I shouldn’t be paying them then? You’re right. I’m not!

5 08 2010
Arturo Vasquez

The corollary of this post would be the question of what constitutes a “bad Catholic”. Today, many Catholics, especially in the United States, are very sensitive towards “heresy” lurking around every corner. We are told that the vast majority of Catholics oppose the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception, many oppose her position on homosexuality or any number of issues. That sort of begs the question as to what is the real status of such an “opposition”. They didn’t have polls in the 13th century, but if they did, could you imagine all of the crazy stuff people would have come up with? If you read Carlo Ginzburg’s book, The Cheese and the Worms, you wouldn’t have to. That Italian man in the early modern period believed all sorts of crazy things. My point is, has there ever been a time in history when the vast majority of average layfolk were perfectly orthodox? I am beginning to believe that the answer is no.

Thus, the whole idea of being a “Catholic in name only” is an unfounded epithet. Most people by these standards would have been “Catholic in name only”, but only an actual canonical trial can kick someone out of the Church (unless they incur latae sententiae excommunication, and even then there is often some public manifestation of the sentence, as in the whole Lefebvre affair). So the exclusionary rhetoric of right-wing American Catholics, contaminated thoroughly with the Puritan concepts of a chosen elect, really has no foundation in Catholic thought. Those people you would deem as “Catholic in name only” and “heretics” are still your family, even if you would rather have your Presbyterian neighbor who is part of your First Things reading circle as your brother. Most Catholics have been doing things you don’t like for centuries, so you better get used to it.

4 08 2010
Jason C.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men; not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber — not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you.”

–1Corinthians 5:9-13

4 08 2010

Is committment Pelagian? Well, don’t tell the evangelicals that! Perhaps the idea of being saved or born again is an implicit Pelagianism. The “personal relationship with Jesus” is a perseverance of the saints more often worn on the sleeve than carried with silent and personal conviction. The Ted Haggards and Jimmy Swaggarts of the world are poster children for self-anointed election.

The Catholic civic religion found in the United States (i.e. cooperation with the Christian Right with a very narrow spectrum of political issues) stems in part from the Catholic desire to appropriate certain concepts from the political Evangelical movement without losing the facade of the Catholic brand. Proponents of the “civil virtue faith” (often termed “neo-con Catholics”) de-emphasise a supernatural union with the sacraments and profound meditation on theology and dogma. Instead, the drive to overturn Roe or strategic fealty to the Republican party takes priority over an understanding of the Incarnation or a recognition of the engagement between (post)modern “Western” “democratic” politics and Catholic social thought.

As for the Church as a barque for sinners? Civic religion emphasizes absolute behavioral conformity and groupthink over the historical mix of pharisees and publicans worshipping together at the same Mass. I rather enjoy my dalithood, as I will always be excluded from the Catholic civic cult. I have no illusion that I am “saved” — rather, it is a healthy skepticism that keeps whatever faith I have left alive.

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