Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

What happened to the Christianity of the apostles?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Feb 27, 2024

I think it is time to be pugnaciously honest about something: Whatever we may say about cultural adaptation in presenting the Catholic Faith to the world, the one undeniable fact is that, compared with the apostles, both the tone and the substance of Catholic discourse have changed dramatically. Sadly, huge segments of Catholic leadership speak and act today exactly how only knavish and cowardly apostles would have spoken and acted in the first century. Think of the eleven or even of the eleven plus Matthias—all witnesses to Christ’s Resurrection. Now think of Judas instead—the worldly stage manager who was always making deals with those he thought more powerful than Christ.

Which image calls to mind modern “dialogue” and modern proposals for change in the Church?

Nowhere in Scripture, in fact, will you find a spirit of “dialogue” except with those who had a serious interest in the truth. You will not find study groups set up to probe error for its vestiges of truth; nor will you find joint statements to emphasize where opposing groups agree so that they can disagree in peace. It is as if the Church in the West, as soon as it was clear that she was no longer part of the dominant culture in the West, has decided no longer to preach the truth or denounce error but henceforth to bravely acknowledge that she approves of some contemporary secular insights…while remaining silent about everything else.

Now of course there is nothing wrong with recognizing the good in other persons, groups and movements. But this recognition of some particular good is no substitute for proclaiming the whole of the Good News. Christ came to bring a message of salvation to the world, and to establish a Church to proclaim that message down through history. Blessed indeed are those who find no scandal in Him (Mt 11:6)! For anything that contradicts this message—this Gospel—is error. Sadly, many efforts at affirming a few things in common are simply a modern way of taking offense at Christ.

The accommodation myth

The Church is largely (though hardly completely) dominated by a special kind of cowardice today—the cowardice of those members of the Church who only wish to be part of the Body of Christ if they can be perceived by the world as among the great and the good. This is why so many Catholics, from bishops to politicians to professors to media members constantly go on record as supporting this or that aspect of the dominant culture’s morals and manners. Insofar as they are worldly, they wish (sometimes perhaps without realizing it) to acknowledge as good whatever the human culture on which they depend for their own acceptability recognizes as good. And so they also constantly distance themselves from any forthright declarations from other Catholics which uphold and expound the unpopular teachings of the Church.

Take the test: Look back at how often too many priests, religious, bishops and even the current pope have made a point of criticizing those who are trying to defend Christ’s teaching, while accommodating those who deny it.

It is considered acceptable, for example, to praise efforts to care for material creation, because the dominant culture favors environmentalism and ecology. But it is considered unacceptable to offer a remedy to those who are destroying themselves through sexual perversion, because the dominant culture does not recognize sexual perversion as perverse. Therefore, we are encouraged and even taught within the Church to maintain a firm stance only on the very minimum grounds allowed to us by the dominant culture, while we school ourselves repeatedly to treat false ideas about human sexuality as mere differences of legitimate opinion.

Or to take an equally vexing issue, we welcome the Scriptural commonalities we share with some Protestant groups, but we don’t like to mention that the Body and Blood of Christ itself is deliberately absent from their corporate prayer, which seriously attenuates the meaning of being gathered together in Christ’s name. In this second case, what is so small a matter between friends? In the first case, why cannot we all just get along? We seem at every moment to be brought up against a whole host of reasons that it is nearly always an unwise policy…to tell the whole truth.

There is, in other words, a popular mythology to the effect that we must build only on what we have in common, which is less and less, instead of offering to others precisely what it is that they lack, which is more and more. The result, as the demons again gain in power over mankind, is a constant accommodation with the demons. The situation has gotten so bad that huge numbers of Catholics actually no longer know what to do about it even if they want to do something about it. Reflecting the attitudes of the dominant culture in order to find some acceptability for the Church seems not only to be the safe course but too often the only approved course. The alternative is to risk summary rejection, which we have been bred for multiple generations now to regard as good neither for ourselves nor for our Church.

The problem is groundless fear

I might say that the problem here is that too many Catholics are afraid of the dominant culture. And that is certainly true. But the reason we are afraid of the dominant culture is that so much of even the official Church has lost her confidence in Christ Himself. The worldly Christian would be quite happy simply to remain Christian insofar as Christ could win the world simply by being Christ. But we imagine that our current culture is too sophisticated, or at least for too powerful, for Christ to conquer it without accommodating Himself to it. Therefore, the only hope that enables us to retain even a shred of our former Christian dignity is the hope of constant accommodation of the Church and her teachings to what the world accepts as true.

I do not know how much of this is sincere, and how much is willful pandering. But what it amounts to is a potent semi-Christian myth. The myth teaches that if only we will behave reasonably, we can, in effect, participate in hell on earth without losing the hope of a redefined heaven hereafter. And so instead of clinging to the faith of the martyrs, we cling to the faith of those who flee martyrdom. There is nothing at all in any of this that is hard to understand. It is only hard to admit.

But the whole great and grand difference between our faith and the apostolic faith is that the apostles refused to accommodate themselves to the visible godless culture that surrounded them because they trusted the invisible grace of the God who surrounded them more closely; whereas we place our hope in continually and depressingly visible human strategies because we no longer trust in anything that we cannot see. For our generation God’s presence and God’s grace have become not just a promise, but an empty promise.

The difficulty with our landslide of compromises, crafted from our fear of the power of falsehood and our silence about the power of Truth, is that we foolishly believe we can in this way salvage something from the supposed continuing defeat of Christ. By contrast, wherever grace is prized, men and women commit to each other, families grow, parishes become vibrant, and vocations abound—by which I mean that the demonic cackles of a fallen world are banished by Christian joy. We remember, perhaps, that Christ promised we would experience the goods of this life “with persecutions”; but we ought also to remember His promise of “eternal life in the age to come” (Mk 10:30). Perhaps too many recognize the persecutions, as far too mundane, but no longer recognize eternal life, as far too celestial. But when St. Paul asked for relief from his own suffering, Christ gave him the same answer He gives us: “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).

The lesson of the Resurrection is the lesson of a stupendous gift of grace unleashed by the very sacrifice of God. With Him, though Him, and in Him comes the victory—and for a very simple and certain reason. We need to learn again to trust as the apostles trusted, that Christ is the only man who cannot lose.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Feb. 28, 2024 10:32 PM ET USA

    Hear, hear!