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What’s Different about the Catholic Religion?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Oct 11, 2012

I’ve argued repeatedly that the key to Catholicism, in comparison with every other religion on earth, is its authority principle. That is, only the Catholic Church claims that it is an infallible custodian of Divine Revelation, such that in every age it can preach Jesus Christ “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb 13:8). Thanks (once again) to Fr. Saward’s anthology of The Spiritual Tradition of Catholic England, we find that the great G. K. Chesterton expressed the same thing in his wonderfully inimitable fashion, with particular reference to Protestantism:

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At the moment when Religion lost touch with Rome, it changed instantly and internally, from top to bottom, in its very substance and the stuff of which it was made. It changed in substance; it did not necessarily change in form or features or externals. It might do the same things; but it could not be the same thing. It might go on saying the same things; but it was not the same thing that was saying them. At the very beginning, indeed, the situation was almost exactly like that. Henry VIII was a Catholic in everything except that he was not a Catholic. He observed everything down to the last bead and candle; he accepted everything down to the last deduction from a definition; he accepted everything except Rome. And in that instant of refusal, his religion became a different religion; a different sort of religion; a different sort of thing. In that instant it began to change; and it has not stopped changing yet.

[This is taken from The Well and the Shallows, one of Chesterton’s last books, regarded by many as his best collection of essays.]

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 CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: MWCooney - Aug. 15, 2018 6:18 PM ET USA

    This Pope has never hesitated to send clear messages, even amidst the confusion that he is so good at sowing. Unfortunately, the clear messages usually involve denunciation of those with the temerity to uphold the clear teachings of the Church as understood in the two millenia preceding this pontificate. God help us--no one else can.

  • Posted by: LCRich - Aug. 15, 2018 11:34 AM ET USA

    Thank you, Phil, for clearly speaking the facts when this group of Cardinals appear not to do that. I pray the Pope will correct these errors.

  • Posted by: Edward I. - Aug. 14, 2018 3:19 AM ET USA

    dfp: The potential "removal" in question is from a special papal-appointed Council, a super-high-ranking and exclusive group even within the highest-ranking and most exclusive group of Catholics in the entire Church, namely, the Cardinals, who are already just a special and privileged group of Bishops. Nothing about justice or Christian charity entitles even an extraordinarily eminent and accomplished man to even the *priesthood*, let alone to membership in the Council of Cardinals.

  • Posted by: feedback - Aug. 13, 2018 11:52 PM ET USA

    dfp3234574, no one sane would endorse wrong accusations. My understanding of "rightly or wrongly" is to point to the lack of proper investigation of the alleged abuses, which starts with the temporary removal of the accused from his post until his name is cleared in a due process. Cardinal Pell, or the Chilean bishops are good examples.

  • Posted by: dfp3234574 - Aug. 13, 2018 8:15 PM ET USA

    You wrote, "Four of those eight cardinals have now been accused, rightly or wrongly, of either engaging in sexual abuse or covering up the evidence of abuse." I think your argument to remove a cardinal even if he is *wrongly accused* (wrongly accused!) is troubling. Where is the justice in that, Phil? Where is the Christian charity?

  • Posted by: Justin8110 - Oct. 12, 2012 6:03 PM ET USA

    And it is on the point of authority that also make the self professed "Orthodox" just as wrong as Protestants. They have true sacraments and a true priesthood and a beautiful liturgy but no real authority. Their ecclesiology of autocephalous "jurisdictions" and nationalism is a joke and in many ways more tragic than Protestantism. The Orthodox actually sometimes look like the true Church but when you look closer there is nothing there but factionalism and chaos with no authority.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Oct. 11, 2012 2:14 PM ET USA

    Mr. Chesterton,as always, is correct. How many of my friends have informed themselves about the Church, but freeze at the thought of crossing the Tiber. It is authority, not the Eucharist, not our Blessed Mother, that is the stopping point. When you think of it, it's the very same conflict as the Tree of Knowledge.