May 22, 2019 (Edward J. Barr – Contributor) – Among the novelties brought into the Christian faith by the Protestant revolution, perhaps the deadliest is the belief in private interpretation of Scripture. That the church of the late 15th and early 16th century was deeply flawed and in need of renewal there is of no doubt. That there were many clerics were incompetent, incorrigible, and acting against the faith is also an historical fact. Yet those charges could be made against the church at any time in her history, perhaps other than the day of Pentecost. The reason is simple. Though the church is holy, she is holy based on her head, Jesus Christ. All the baptized participate in the divine love of the Trinity by entrance into the mystical body of Christ. Yet the church can never reach the perfection of Christ while fallible humans are part of it. Until the second coming the church will consist of sinners in constant need of renewal, and in constant need of the guidance and sacraments that only Christ’s church can provide.
The two main tenants of the Protestant revolution that significantly impact theology are sola scriptura and fide. While they are both flawed in application they both contain elements of the truth. The Catholic Church enthusiastically supports the view that all Scripture is the inspired word of God. In fact, it was the Catholic Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who determined the canon of Scripture. While the church does not adhere to faith alone, for as James says, faith without works is dead, she does teach that faith, which is acceptance of an offer first made by God, is the critical first step toward salvation. We are saved by faith, expressed in charity. The belief in private interpretation stems from the philosophies contained within sola scriptura and sola fide, and the implications that flow from it have deadly consequences. By severing individual Christians from the Church, the revolutionaries severed them from the benefits of a more intimate union with Trinitarian love that is offered through Christ’s mystical body.
Apostolic authority of the Catholic Church does not rest on the fact that this visible institution can trace its roots to an historical founding by Jesus Christ. Its significance resides in the holiness of its divine founder, and the continuation of the mission of Christ until the end of time. The mission of the church is to perpetuate the mission of Christ, through the Spirit, to bring all men to the Father. Apostolic succession is based on Trinitarian love! When this tie was severed the worldly fallout began immediately, as the original protesters quickly split into factions. This proliferation of churches in the Protestant community continues unabated today. Yet more damning is the opening that private interpretation gives to the heresies of Modernism and Postmodernism.
The heresies of Modernism and Postmodernism have many nuances yet all result in placing mankind at the center of all things. While modernists may radically change the terminology of religion, postmodernists may altogether deny that there is a God. They both deny certain (or all) truths and embrace relativism. As the Enlightenment developed these fledging heresies developed and slowly eradicated God from his central place in the universe. The doctrine of private interpretation added fuel to their fire. If you eliminate the authority and teaching office of the body of Christ (the church) in society, a community that is designed to be an actual leaven within the world, religion has no valid place in the public square. And when you eliminate the body of Christ, you can more easily eliminate Christ himself. If Christianity is solely a personal decision based on “me and Jesus,” then the government can somewhat legitimately state that all religious views must be kept private.
The most explicit political philosophy that emphasized the “private” side of “private interpretation” is communism, or socialism. Whether it is the national socialists of the Nazi party or the Communists that expanded in the early and mid-20th century, both included eradication of the Almighty’s earthly existence. This was a dark reality that the world faced; yet, upon careful analysis, an equally frightening fact appears. Many of the policies seen today in progressive Western liberal democracies are similar to those pursued by communist regimes. For example, both preached universal tolerance and fundamental fairness, yet both viciously subjugate those individuals or organizations that dare question the party line.
Prior to the Protestant revolution, the church provided and was granted authority to provide guidance on morals, determining right and wrong, life and death, and other ethical issues. With the advent of Protestantism and the implications of the doctrine of private interpretation, secular governments increasingly took the opportunity to replace themselves as the arbiters of issues formally under the purview of the church. Some elements of the Church fought back against this trend, but others tried to alleviate governmental concerns by modifying religious practices. Any such attempts by Christians to go along with the secular governments usurpation of these issues was welcomed. In communism the result was often a church of the state, which subjugated or eliminated the divine and replaced it with a nationalistic love of the state. China is an example of this today. Progressive Western liberal democracies take a similar but different track, subjugating Christianity in the name of “equality.” This has led to such absurdities as the European Union’s stating that it has no Christian heritage, blindly rejecting centuries of Christian influence that helped create their once vibrant societies.
While more dramatic in the European Union and Canada, we face the same rampant progressive secularism in the United States. Being a majority Protestant country the American church after Vatican II did its best to ensure that Catholics fit in the general culture. The results of this policy have not been good. Church attendance has fallen dramatically, as have vocations. Both the general policies of the American church after Vatican II and the Vatican today maintain the same hope that a more accommodating Christianity will be viewed more favorably by secular governments. Support of this belief is one reason why the dying progressive accommodationist German church possesses disproportionate influence at the Vatican.
It is recognized that many who supported the aggiornamento of Vatican II believed they were doing the right thing. However, they did not understand the philosophy they were dealing with then and are still dealing with today. The philosophy of the modern liberal progressives is one that is based on the heresy of Modernism, with an emphasis on materialism. In the US, the legacy of private interpretation has led in recent decades to the elimination of Christian influence in those areas that were traditionally church-based. In morality, the meaning of life, and life-and-death issues the state is the final arbiter, by force if necessary. Many faithful, Catholics and Protestants alike, have embraced the modernist philosophy and accepting, supporting, and even champion inherent evils. Without the Church to teach the faithful, the main instructor in all things is the secular humanist culture, one that is increasingly atheistic and hostile to Christ and His church.
Progressive liberal policies are embraced with the fervor unmatched by Christians. As a prediction, I believe that the Democratic Party of the United States will eliminate God from their party platform at their 2020 convention. This makes sense to many. If being a Christian means, me and Jesus, then you don’t have to, nor should you, say a word about your faith in public. It is a “private matter.” One way this idea has been developed in recent years is when politicians speak of “freedom of worship” rather than the Constitutionally protected “freedom of religion.” Freedom of worship means you keep your beliefs in the building or in your mind, but don’t you dare bring them out in public. Because of this trend many Americans today may even say that faith does not have a place in the public square. This is based on the inimical twisting of the phrase “separation of church and state.” While intended to protect churches from state harassment, today it is widely viewed as eliminating the church from the state. The exact threat to churches that stimulated the creation of the protection has now been realized. There is a state church, and it is secular.
Private interpretation in the West can now be seen as “you believe what you believe, and I’ll believe what I believe.” Its rotten fruit is rampant moral relativism; “my truth is my truth, and your truth is your truth.” As the West has eliminated the church, the body of Christ, from any meaningful role in the public square, the pagan culture has usurped all roles formerly restricted to religion. This has led the secular church to promote the killing of people who were not having a good day in the name of compassion, to ignore the scientific proof of an embryo being a separate human life in the interest of fairness, and to ignore the biological reality of man and woman in the interest of equality. If you choose to deny these progressive truths, you will be punished.
The dagger of private interpretation has sliced deep into Western European and Canadian societies and is slowly piercing our skin in the United States. The church is persecuted in those cultures. Preaching Catholic doctrine can get you imprisoned in Canada. Those in the church who would seek to join progressives will have as much success as those who tried to mollify communist regimes. The Vatican recently tried to do so with communist China, and the results are an enhanced persecution of the faithful in that country. There can be no intersection of either communist or progressive doctrines with the teaching of the Catholic Church.
We need strong shepherds to combat the errors flowing from the policy of private interpretation embraced by so many in the West. While we face a “white martyrdom” of legal persecution and suppression of the faith in the US a more serious threat looms on the horizon. There were more Christian martyrs in the 20th century then all other centuries combined. The main perpetrators of these deaths were fundamental Islam and atheistic communist regimes. Progressive Democratic liberalism policies are frighteningly similar to those held by the Communists. Church leaders can be defenders of the faith or continue policies of embracing the lies of the secularists in a vain attempt to buy worldly “credibility.” This go along to get along policy has as much of a chance of succeeding as Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement did with Hitler. If church leaders continue on the path of capitulation the white martyrdom we face today will eventually turn red.
Edward J Barr is a Catechist, an attorney, an intelligence officer, a Marine, and a university faculty member. He has a graduate certificate in theology from the Augustine Institute, where he continues to study. This article is a synopsis of an adult education lecture offered to Catholic parishes and men’s groups. Mr. Barr is a contributing writer for the Roma Locuta Est blog (www.RomaLocutaEst.com).