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Sunday Guessing Game: The Church and the Kingdom

[Update: Michael Liccione is the winner.]

So, uh, who wrote the following?

What was Jesus's own attitude? There can be little doubt that he saw himself as the Messiah; certainly he was executed for refusing to deny that he had made this claim. On the other hand, he seems to have been secretive about it, and to have disliked hearing himself called Messiah - or Christ, which amounted to the same thing. In Caesarea Philippi Jesus asked his disciples point-blank who people said he was. Some, they said, took him to be John the Baptist come to life, others Elijah, yet others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. But whom do ye say that I am?, Jesus insisted. Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God, Peter answered. Jesus was delighted; Blessed art thou, he said to Peter; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in Heaven. It was on this occasion, we are told, that Jesus went on to tell Peter that he was true to his name - a rock; and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. In terms of history, few sayings attributed to Jesus have proved more portentous, for upon it is based the whole mystique of the Catholic Church as the unique repository of God's purposes on earth and instrument of effecting them, with Peter as the first Pope to whom the keys of the kingdom of heaven have been entrusted.
However authentic this particular saying of Jesus may be - and it is true that, if he did not actually say it, the first Church Fathers had the strongest possible inducement to put into his mouth - it is certainly true that, despite many abominations and setbacks, the Church has lasted for a phenomenal length of time - longer, certainly, than any comparable institution. Thus it may legitimately be said that the gates of Hell have not so far prevailed against it. An outsider might consider that just now the Church's future looks blacker than at any time in history, if only because the forces of discord and destruction are working from within; the gates of Hell might almost seem to have been set up at the entrance to the Vatican and to open inwards. Yet the faithful would surely say that Jesus's undertaking to St. Peter remains valid, and must forever. For myself, I cannot imagine believing that any institution, however long-lived and sacerdotal in its origins, can be other than subject to decay and dissolution...

In any case, Jesus did not come into the world to found a Church but to proclaim a Kingdom - the two being by no means the same thing. If he chose Peter to be the rock on which his Church was to be founded, thereby in effect nominating him to be the first of a long line of his Vicars on earth, there have been many mundane intruders into this spiritual domain, from the Emperor Constantine onwards. Now another takeover would seem to be imminent; by Caliban, this time, with, in place of Trinculo, Stephanos, and their ribald crew, many a randy Father, mini-skirted nun and Marxist-dialoguing Jesuit in beret and parachutist rig. To those who like myself, rightly or wrongly, have become convinced that what is called 'Western civilization' is irretrievably over, and that another Dark Age is upon us, this seeming collapse of the Church is desolating. We bemoan the passing of a liturgy in which we never participated, of high virtues which we never practiced, of an obedience we never accorded and an orthodoxy we never accepted and often ridiculed.

Yet even if it is true that, despite the assurance given to Peter, the gates of hell have prevailed, or at any rate are now swinging on ecumenical hinges, that is only a lost battle. The war goes on; and suddenly, in the most unlikely theatre of all, a Solzhenitsyn raises his voice, while in the dismal slums of Calcutta a Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity go about Jesus's work of love with incomparable dedication. When I think of them, as I have seen them at their work and at their devotions, I want to put away all the books, tear up all the scribbled notes. There are no more doubts or dilemmas; everything is perfectly clear. What commentary or exposition, however eloquent, lucid, perceptive, inspired even, can equal in elucidation and illumination the effect of these dedicated lives? What mind has conceived a discourse, or tongue spoken it, which conveys even to a minute degree the light they shine before men? I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink...the words come alive, as no study or meditation could possibly make them, in the fulfillment in the most literal sense of Jesus's behest to see in the suffering face of humanity his suffering face, and in their broken bodies, his. The religion Jesus gave the world is an experience, not of a body of ideas or principles. It is in being lived that it lives, as it is in loving that the love which it discloses at the heart of all creation becomes manifest. It belongs to the world of Cervantes rather than that of Wittgenstein; to Rabelais and Tolstoy rather than to Bultmann and Barth...

So in the face of a Mother Teresa I trace the very geography of Jesus's Kingdom; all the contours and valleys and waterways. I need no other map. In the light of such a faith as hers, the troubles of the Church, its liturgical squabbles and contending theologies and Vatican Councils drowsing through interminable sessions, seem of little account. Once when I was complaining about Church dignitaries and their attitudes, Mother Teresa drily pointed out that, of the twelve disciples hand-picked by Jesus himself, one turned out to be a crook and the rest ran away. How, she asked, can we expect mere popes and bishops to do better? How indeed?

Comments (29)

No clue who wrote it, but I love the conclusion!

Malcolm Muggeridge?

Steve Burton? No, just kidding.

Muggeridge is an interesting guess. I will suggest Russell Kirk, though I don't really think the style is quite right.

I am puzzled about saying that Western Civ is virtually dead, in a piece that projects the success of Christ's Kingdom: Typically, it is usually understood by those who are in favor of Western Civ that Christianity, and the structure of civilization that presented us with Judaism in the year 30 AD, and the specific Jesus who died at Roman hands, was designed by God to be a situation and a culture that presented the world with the groundwork from which the Gospel message could be proclaimed. And even though Rome fell, Western Civ survived. And even though medieval ideas of governing have fallen by the wayside, Western Civ survived. And even though Divine Right of Kings pushed on, Western Civ came through. I would posit that anywhere Christ's message is a leading force for thought, there Western civilization has an impact as well: Western civilization cannot wholly fail because it is now unbreakably bound to Christianity.


I would posit that anywhere Christ's message is a leading force for thought, there Western civilization has an impact as well: Western civilization cannot wholly fail because it is now unbreakably bound to Christianity.

I would say this might be backwards. It remains to be seen whether Western civilisation is unbreakably bound to Christianity. The Church cannot fail. History is replete with examples of civilisations that once were bound to Christianity, which became unbound, and which failed.


Certainly not Russell Kirk. Kirk was Catholic; this person clearly isn't.

I don't know who wrote it. The attitude is similar to that of David Berlinski--at times. But I'm sure Berlinski didn't write it.

Tony - heh! If only I could write like that.

Clearly, though, a non-Catholic who deeply appreciated what the Church had (sometimes) been, but was not, at the time he wrote. (Pontificate of Paul VI, by any chance?)


Certainly not Russell Kirk. Kirk was Catholic; this person clearly isn't

Well, a google search says

[no web searches allowed! -ed]

He certainly became a Catholic; don't know if he was when he wrote the above, and too lazy to find out. But I don't see why you said the person who wrote it wasn't a Catholic. It is certainly something that a Catholic gladly say "Hear! Hear!" to - I am a Catholic, and I do.

A Catholic doesn't (or shouldn't) say that everything that Catholics do is just great - it is the Church, not the Churchmen, that Jesus said the Gates of Hell would not prevail against.


Whoever edited out the google search: thank you.

Guess I'll have to repeat the rules every single time. A google search IS NOT A GUESS.


OK, anyway, sorry, didn't read the rules - didn't know there were rules.

Don't see why the author should be assumed not to be a Catholic. The writing looks very much like that of a Catholic who recognises the fact that if this mess we call the Catholic Church can survive (as, I think, MacCauley (sp?) - or was it Thackeray? - recognised in the 19th Century), it must be of God :-)

That is, in fact, what I read the author as saying, and I assumed the author was a Catholic when I read it - before I did the google search - which evidently was cheating - unintentional (the cheating, I mean, not the searching)!


And - PS - I incorrectly ascribed the opinion of non-Catholicism to Lydia; I see it was Steve Burton. Sorry about that!


No, Lydia did say that this person "clearly" was not Catholic. And Steve too.

I reason from this (emphasis added):

We bemoan the passing of a liturgy in which we never participated, of high virtues which we never practiced, of an obedience we never accorded and an orthodoxy we never accepted and often ridiculed.

If he never participated in the Catholic liturgy and never accepted Catholic orthodoxy, it seems clear to me that at the time he wrote this, at any rate, the author was not a Catholic. I would expect that anyone who was a Catholic would at some time in his own past have participated in the Catholic liturgy and accepted Catholic orthodoxy, even if only as a child.

This person wasn't Catholic, whether they claimed to be or not. I have no idea who said it though...maybe Oriana Fallaci?


I would expect that anyone who was a Catholic would at some time in his own past have participated in the Catholic liturgy and accepted Catholic orthodoxy, even if only as a child.

Oh, I hate do spoil this lovely innocent view of Catholics. Pity you couldn't be a fly on the wall in my parish for a year. I devoutly wish they all accepted Catholic orthodoxy. Of course the ones who call themselves Catholics but don't participate in the liturgy aren't there at all.

But I didn't see anything in the quote that indicated the person didn't participate in the Catholic liturgy and accept Catholic orthodoxy. Again, there is a danger of confusing description of the Church as human beings and the Church as Christ's institution. I am a Catholic, I participate in the liturgy, and I absolutely hold to Catholic orthodoxy (as a matter of the will, I mean; I do not mean I might be wrong sometime, but will submit to the Church's correction), and although I confess I didn't read the quote in great depth, I didn't see anything in it that I wouldn't agree with.


But...the author said that _he_ never participated in the Catholic liturgy. Right? "...a liturgy in which we never participated..." Is this supposed to be some sort of weird "we" that doesn't really include the author himself?

I've actually read this before, but I don't remember who wrote it, or indeed how long ago I read it. The bit about Mother Teresa's face being a map of the kingdom rings a very loud bell but I can't quite place it.

It sounds like something Roger Scruton might say, but I've never read anything he wrote that was this Christian- or Catholic-specific, and style-wise it's not much like him.

Not Kirk, not Walker Percy. It need not have been written by someone who wasn't Catholic; it could be by a person who recognized the fall of Western Civilization first and became Catholic later. Muggeridge, then, is a good guess, but I haven't read enough of him to recognize his style.

No guess from me, then, as it would be a completely wild one.

~~Is this supposed to be some sort of weird "we" that doesn't really include the author himself?~~

Fairly common figure of speech, actually.


We bemoan the passing of a liturgy in which we never participated, of high virtues which we never practiced, of an obedience we never accorded and an orthodoxy we never accepted and often ridiculed.

I took this to refer to the pre-Vatican II liturgy. The word 'participated' can mean one of two things:

- the author is a Catholic only since V-II and literally never participated in the Tridentine Mass

- the author is referring to the fact that the laity in the Tridentine Mass were often very passive - praying the Rosary during the Mass, for instance.

Certainly the 'high virtues' are, alas, often not practised, the obedience - Christ have mercy on us! - often not accorded, and orthodoxy often ridiculed - and this by Catholics.

The Catholic Church is, as I believe, the Body of Christ, the unique Voice of Christ in the World, the Ark of Salvation. It is also the home of quite a few unclean birds.


I would go with Muggeridge as well -- I think he converted due to Mother Teresa's work with the poor.

Well, Lydia's inference is perfectly logical and in fact correct. I would conclude that the author was not Catholic (at the time of writing) based not only on his comment about liturgy and orthodoxy, but on this: For myself, I cannot imagine believing that any institution, however long-lived and sacerdotal in its origins, can be other than subject to decay and dissolution... Nor does he need any other map of the Kingdom than what he sees in Mother Teresa's face.

No Catholic could write that.

Michael Liccione is the winner, having guessed it first (I suspect he read the book at some point). Which book was entitled Jesus: The Man Who Lives, published 1974 or 5, and written before (I think) his Something Beautiful for God, his portrait of M. Teresa and which was, along with a TV documentary based upon it, mainly responsible for bringing her to the attention of the world. He later became Catholic, a conversion he attributes mostly to the influence of that little nun. In the years before that he seemed much smitten with Christianity's "diversity" in its various cults and individual enthusiasts, thus his praise of such characters as Tolstoy, whose Christianity was, to say the least, quirky, and Simone Weil.

Muggeridge, prior to conversion, had always reserved a special respect for the Catholic Church - even as he thought it might disappear - mostly (as I took it) because it seemed to him the only institutional force capable of consistently condemning what he called the "erotomania" of our times. He lauded Humanae Vitae, and celebrated it on its 20th anniversary in the company of Catholics - at their invitation. Probably because he could defend it better than they.

I'm sad to say that real, authentic Catholicism has almost disappeared from the world. As Anne Catherine Emmerich, St. Nicholas of Fluh, and numerous others predicted, the Faith is preserve but in a few places and a few households. I know that the majority of people on this blog would not agree - but they would certainly note the decline of Western Civilization over the post-V2 time frame, at least.

Ah well, one day it'll be fixed.

Well, if by "real, authentic Catholicism" you mean "specific Counterreformation practices and forms of piety centered around the Tridentine Mass" then perhaps you are correct. But that's not the definition of "real authentic Catholicism". I'm not saying it's not a tragic loss in many ways - just that Catholicism is not limited to the Latin Church in the post-Trent period. Or any period for that matter.

And if you think V2 caused the decline of Western Civilization, apparently you haven't been paying attention to what's been going on since the 19th century and before.

Why be so pessimistic? The Holy Father seems to be hopeful. And frankly, I don't care what Anne Catherine Emmerich said in that regard, or anyone else for that matter. I do care that Christ said that the gates of hell would not prevail - and that the Church is with Peter.

So any Catholic, Old Rite, New Rite, Eastern Rite, Latin Rite, Western Rite, Maronite, Melkite, charismatic, traditionalist - any one that is in union with Rome, who believes and follows the teaching authority of the Church and the truth and efficacy of the sacraments, and who loves Christ and seeks to follow him with a whole heart - that's real authentic Catholicism.

I'm so sick of this "the Faith is preserved in my household but the rest of you rubes are on the road to perdition - some saint said it, so it must be true" attitude. If that wasn't your intention, I'm sorry.


No, you pretty much nailed my intention. I'm a sedevacantist. And I know that the gates of hell will not prevail over the Catholic Church, that doesn't mean that she won't endure a passion similar to that of her Lord. I highly doubt you or anyone else wants to get into the debate about the merits of sedevacantism here, so I'll avoid it, but if you'd like to talk about it just ask. I'll give you my email.

And it's not just "some saint said it." There are dozens of saints that specifically foretold what is happening now and what is soon to come. If you would like to dismiss the words and warnings of countless saints, then feel free, but I'd advise against it.

I attend the Tridentine Mass, but it's a common fallacy of non-Traditionalists to think that it's our main focus. Our problem is with the loss and contradiction of the Catholic Faith as it was believed from the Apostles until the 1960s. Compare Vatican II's doctrine on religious liberty to those of past popes - the Syllabus Errorum of Pius IX for instance - and tell me it's the same doctrine.

And I understand that Western Civilization has been in decline for centuries now - really ever since Protestantism arose, if you want to trace it back to its ideological roots. But Western Civilization would always survive and remain strong so long as the Catholic Church remained strong, and the Vatican remained faithful to Christ's teachings in His Church. Post-Vatican II, that disappeared, and faithful Catholics were scattered across the world without the traditional hierarchy to support them.

Something fundamental happened at that time. Before, there had been a countercurrent to traditional Western Civilization/Christendom, but afterwards that trend became the norm. In the US alone, more than 70% of self-professed "Catholics" don't believe in the Real Presence, and only 17% attend Mass regularly.

At the time of the Arian heresy's peak, the Emperor and 90-some percent of all bishops followed the false doctrine, driving true Catholics from their churches and dioceses. In the time of the Maccabees, false High Priests ruled in succession over the Temple and promoted idolatry, killing any faithful Hebrews who refused to follow along. At the time of Elias, only 3000 Israelites remained faithful to God, and at the Deluge, only 8 people were uncorrupted by the evils of antediluvian civilization (and Pius X stated that even in his time, morals were worse than in the time of Noah's Flood).

This kind of stuff happens, and it even looks totally hopeless at times. But the Catholic Church is not of men, and it will persevere. All of the evils and damage done to the Church will be repaired, and she will once again be what she once was. I pray for that day to come.

I know you don't agree with me, of course, but that's my two cents.

No, I will not argue. So you believe those of us who are in union with the pope are all heretics on our way to Hell? And that that not only includes us, but certain giants of Catholicism in the late 20th century, like Cardinal Cooke, Fr. John Hardon, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Dietrich von Hildebrand, and Mother Theresa? Even Cardinal Ottaviani submitted himself to the Council. Even the Abbé de Nantes, and even Archbishop LeFevbre reject the Sedevacantist position clearly.

I hope your understanding of the Lord is not so spurious. We do the best we can to preserve the Catholic Faith and to live it - and for most of us that means obedience and union with Peter. Are you telling me that God will punish us for this?

Look, I suffer from really bad scrupulosity, so maybe it's better if you do not answer my questions. You have no idea how important it is to have a Magisterium with clear teachings. I fight a constant battle with despair and lack of trust in God. A God who would allow His Church not just to be tested but to be taken over by evil, and then let the Truth be scattered among several groups who cannot even agree amongst themselves on anything except their hatred for the Vatican, or who teach things that were never Magisterial teachings (Feeneyism, for starters, or gleaning theological knowledge from private revelations) - how could anyone trust such a God?

I get the impression you've clashed with others here before, so I don't want to incite a protracted argument. Please forgive me if I bow out of this now.


I honestly couldn't say for certain whether those people went to heaven or hell, but I do believe it's possible for someone to be truly mistaken as to whether the post-1958 antipopes were actual Popes, much as people were sincerely mistaken during the Western Schism. In that case, they'd still be Catholic.

But to see clearly that the modern doctrine taught from the Vatican is clearly and unquestionably different from what, say, Aquinas believed (as an example relevant to this blog - it's really everyone) and follow along anyway? Yeah, that'd put one outside of the Church. Obedience to Peter means obedience to the teachings of the Church, as was taught through the office ex cathedra. If anyone intentionally contradicts the teachings of the Church - be it layman or Prelate - they are a heretic and outside the fold.

For example, let's say that tomorrow, out of nowhere, Benedict XVI taught that God wasn't a Trinity. Would you follow him? Of course not; the Church has made it abundantly clear that, if a Pope falls into heresy, he loses his office (and I can provide proof of this btw). I believe the Magisterium's teachings are abundantly, painfully clear; the only thing that's muddled them at all has been Vatican II and the post-V2 "updates."

I'm not entirely convinced that Lefebvre did reject sedevacantism, as I've heard reports to the contrary from people who had contact with him before he died. Regardless, I am not SSPX or a Feeneyite. I am a Catholic who attends CMRI Masses, among others.

I trust God, and I'm sorry to hear that you struggle with temptations to the contrary. But I have no qualms with the idea that the Faith has fallen out of favor with the present world; like I said, this sort of thing has happened before. Your statement could easily have been made during the time of Elias, or Noah, or Athanasius, or Judas Maccabeus, and so on. I am certain that anyone who makes a sincere effort to seek God will find Him and His Truth in the teachings of the Holy Catholic Church.

But I actually haven't butted heads with anyone here about this before, as I'm a relative newbie. And if you do care to talk about it in more detail, then I'm open to it.

So that you'll know what I mean, let me define my terms:

By "certitude" I mean how sure we feel about a thing.
By "certainty" I mean how sure a thing is in itself, regardless of how we feel about it.

Having great amounts of certitude does not make a thing certain. Having no certitude about a thing does not make it uncertain. We often mistakenly think so because we confuse these two concepts, which I'd like to keep separate. Because we conflate or confuse these concepts, we sometimes do things that increase our certitude about an idea and think that by doing so we have increased its certainty when we have not. Certitude is something about us; certainty is something about it. That's another way of saying that it's possible to feel quite sure about things that are false and unsure about things that are true. To our detriment, we sometimes confuse and conflate things that are different, things like certitude and certainty.

I think that when many persons complain about uncertainty they actually are complaining about imperfect certitude. Therefore, when they set about trying to fix what troubles them, they do things that make them feel more certitude, but that don't really establish certainty. Some appeals to authority and to infallibility strike me as just such aids-to-certitude masquerading as aids-to-certainty. Those appeals are futile simply because we human beings cannot produce certainty. Producing certainty is a Divine, not a human, prerogative. Only God can make things certain, and He does so by establishing those things Himself. What God has established is certain, whether we know those things or not, whether we agree with those things or not, and whether we have certitude about them or not.

When I explain here the difference between certitude and certainty, and the way some folks strengthen the former while thinking they are strengthening the latter, two groups come to mind: Protestants who misapply the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy, and Catholics who misapply the doctrine of infallibility. I am not here arguing against either concept. But I am remarking about their potential misuse and about the motivations that seem sometimes to lurk behind that misuse as its operative principle.

God seems not to place as much stock in our certitude as we do, or at least some of us. He can, and sometimes has, left his people in error, sometime even for centuries, as He did with the Jewish people in the OT (and later), and apparently as He has done either with the Eastern Orthodox, the Roman Catholics, or the Protestants, all of whom (I happily affirm) are his people, though not all of whom can be correct on some important points. They have, often with impressive levels of certitude, gone forward in error for centuries. We have impressive certitude that it's the other guy. He has that certitude about us. If nothing else is clear from reading WWWtW, that is.

To be distressed in the wrong way about competing brands of certitude, and about epistemological ambiguities, implies a misplaced faith. It implies that one's faith stands or falls on the basis of one's certitude. But if the world God actually gave us does not yield the sort of certitude we crave, then so be it. He knows his business, and his business isn't apparently bowing to our every psychological compulsion. We must learn to trust God in the world He actually made, and with the means of knowing He actually provided, even if they are not, to our view at least, sufficiently productive of certitude. Let God do as He wishes, and let us trust Him in so doing, even when it is unsettling. Christian faith is in the God who is, not in the God we'd like Him to be. That is, having faith in certitude is not the same as faith in the God who is.

d_senti: I don't want to argue with you. I know all the points the sedevacantists make, and I reject them all. Perhaps if you want to argue with someone, then I'm sure there are better and more knowledgeable Catholics here than me.

As for me, I will stay with Rome and Peter. I believe Christ instituted the Catholic Church to bring salvation far and wide to as many people as possible across this world. He would never allow it to become hidden and accessible only to a few people living in wealthy Anglophone nations.

I try to add a prayer for Christian unity into my morning offering daily. That goes for all of us.


Alright, that's your choice of course. My point was simply that it's a flawed argument, as God has allowed such a thing to happen many times in the past. Regardless of whether it seems right to you, it is simply a historical fact. But that's all, as you've made it clear you don't wish to discuss it further.

The Arian heresy and the Western Schism, as well as the East-West Schism and the Reformation are historical facts. But there has never been a time when God has allowed the pope and all the bishops, as well as 99.99% of the whole church to apostatize.

To call men like Archbishop Sheen, Fr. Hardon, Cardinal Ottaviani, Cardinal Dulles, Mother Theresa, and yes, Karol Wojtyla and Joseph Ratzinger all heretics seems like a big step for me.

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