For many are called, but few are chosen.
“Conservative” (whatever that means) sorts of Catholics often take a hard line on certain Bible verses or sayings of the Fathers and from there develop more general beliefs. One of these general beliefs is the “fewness of the saved,” a belief that is certainly not without historical pedigree. The way most folks consider the fewness of the saved is not just in some end of days comparison of the total number saved versus the total number damned. But it is also a belief that – right here and right now, today and every day since the revelation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – of the number of people who will perish on any given day very very few will be saved. Interesting to me, however, is that these same folks tend to see the current state of the Church and broader civilization as radically different from prior historical states of affairs. Things today are so very different that, some contend, we are living in the Great Apostasy. And as so often happens, the sorts of people who take the hardest of lines on the fewness of the saved tend to be most trenchant in their belief in the current Great Apostasy. Now it is rather challenging, to me at least, to reconcile these two beliefs. For if very few people who die on any given day are saved, then haven’t we always been living in the Great Apostasy?
“How can he” (re: Gregory Nazianzen, priest AD 361) “take on himself the guidance of others in such troubled times – the Church profaned, invective prized, personal rivalries flourishing, all in chaos and confusion? Priests and influential laymen are involved in strife. Pagans hate us for our dissensions. Our own best people are scandalized. The Christian is even lampooned on the stage. His own disciples make Christ’s name to be blasphemed.” – from Graham Neville’s “Introduction,” Six Books on the Priesthood, St. John Chrysostom
Worrying that there is too much censorship is like worrying there are too many mousetraps.
This is not to say that the need for more censorship is not problematic. Anymore than to say a need for more mousetraps isn’t problematic. There is a problem – a problem more fundamental and worse and horrible than mere censorship.
One of the attractions of Protestantism is the availability of purity spiral towards the event horizon known as “page 1 through 1,200 of the Bible.” This is particularly tempting to those who – nobly – desire purity and therefore question the implications of impurity in their local church. Since formal communion with any particular church is typically not necessary for salvation or living virtuously, the Protestant can move on to another church once he deems home base sufficiently impure. As one spirals towards the event horizon the number of fellow souls one communes with religiously is smaller. And ironically purity is much more challenging to maintain corporately as the dilution factor shrinks and the church becomes “more pure.”
Much of Protestantism’s creeds and confessions is an understandable searching for doctrinal purity. However, they often function in real time as an attempt to arrest further the purity spiral through some formalism. More “liberal” churches typically will utilize little more than platitudes or social justice work as the limits to their circle. Further down the spiral are the evangelical sorts who see religious slogans such as “faith alone” as the limiting factor, while even more “conservative” churches will formalize certain creeds. Occasionally there are folks who formalize all of the above – creed, slogan, and justice work – and these are typically of a very small orb. Westboro Baptist is a good example.
When I read Catholics who seem to be in the throes of spiral, I very often notice them to have confused ecclesiology. It is an intriguing line of thought: though holiness has always been a mark of the Church, so has been “catholic.” And it is the sacramental unity in one visible institution of these marks which repudiates purity spiral.
There is always censorship. However, the more successful and cohesive a society is the less censorship is needed – because there is less disagreement over good, appropriate, or tolerable speech. When societies are less homogenous and cohesive there will only naturally be “more censorship.” But the fundamental problem is not that there is more censorship – censorship is a given in any society. The problem is that the society is falling apart to such an extent it is disagreeing over its most basic communications.
Saint Thomas Aquinas explicated the Angelic Salutation while preaching in his home Naples near the end of his life. Fittingly known in later ages as the Angelic Doctor, Aquinas believed the exalted position – far above even the angels – of Our Lady was evidenced by the salutation of honor given her by the angel at the Annunciation. In Aquinas’s view this was the only time in Scripture an angel paid such honor to man. And the angel neither came hidden as in Tobit’s case nor did his appearance confuse Our Lady to fall down before him in worship as happened to John in the Apocalypse.
However an angel might greet any one of us, it certainly would not be with “Hail!” or “Full of grace” or “The Lord is with thee,” and Aquinas explains how each phrase illustrates the special prerogatives of Our Lady over all others, man or angel. Mary’s fullness of grace overflows unto all men, and therefore she is most especially called “Help of Christians.” She is the star of the sea to whom all may fly in times of danger for help. It is a tender sermon on Mary, which ends upholding the centrality of her son the God-Man Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Controversialists often point out that Aquinas erred regarding the Immaculate Conception during his sermon – they also tend to be less declarative that Aquinas was spot on with the Assumption. Regardless these errors of the Saints have never really bothered me. In fact, I believe in some way such errors – prior to dogmatic definitions by the Church – have a way of further crystallizing the truth. In a footnote to Aquinas’s erroneous statements on the Immaculate Conception, the translator in my copy remarks: In this reckoning St. Thomas erred, by not considering that for the most perfect redemption it is proper to have a most perfect redeemed, and this not only after contracting sin, from conception, but even before contracting it, in conception. (emphasis mine)
A perfect Redeemer. And a perfect redeemed. Indeed.
There are many ways in which “meritocracy” could inform a functioning, coherent politics. As we do not live under a coherent politics, meritocracy is currently experienced as a naive conceit of evil, incoherent free- and equal-loving liberal democracy. The ironies are endless. For while, from the available evidence, Greta Thunberg has merited rather little, she has nevertheless merited in every sense of the word to be Time Person of the Year 2019.