Many are called but few are chosen. There are sayings of Christ which suggest that the Church he came to establish will always be a minority affair. (Edward Norman)
Edward Norman has been on my mind recently. At seventy eight, he belongs to that generation of scholar-priests we cannot afford to lose. Not now.
Better known in Britain than here, he has had a long, distinguished career as an historian, an academic, and a priest of the Church of England. Among his ecclesial credits, is Dean of Chapel, Christ Church College, Canterbury and, later, Canon Chancellor of York Minster.
Three years ago, he converted to Catholicism in October 2012, four months before Benedict XVI resigned from the papacy. Writing of his decision in the Catholic Herald, he spoke of his abiding affection for the Church of England, but added this:
How can the “Church” be the body of Christ in the world when its confession varies from place to place and person to person, not only in minor but in the most essential teachings about faith and morals? At the centre of Anglicanism is a great void.
I can only wonder what he is thinking now, as Catholicism is tilting—once again in the longue durée—toward the same void.
A quarter century ago, in Entering the Darkness (1991), he wrote:
Adherents of the faith are attracted by example rather than argument; but the example often lacks objective reality—the Christian life which attracts is frequently an invention of the observer’s own desire to find something noble to which adherence can be given.
Christian lives which become cults, either of the past or of the present (whether Francis of Assisi or Oscar Romero), are so overlaid with propagandistic piety that they become artefacts of ideology rather than human realities. People simply do not want to see the living tissue behind the icon.
Just so, a blinkered attitude toward the papacy is encouraged among Catholics. It is spurred by bishops, by editors and academics on a Catholic-career track, in homilies and in devotional literature. Idolatrous in nature, and metastasizing since the nineteenth century, this surrender to illusion has reached monstrous proportions by now. Our media-induced culture of pseudo-events has made the pope a celebrity mascot of globalization, loosey-goosey leftism, and environmental spirituality. Pope Francis both feeds on the role and fuels it.
The first responsibility of any Catholic journalist today is to demythologize the mythical sentimentalities that have grown like briars around the papacy, protecting its occupant behind a thicket of delusions of omnipotence.
Leave the last word to Edward Norman:
A religion . . . which becomes preoccupied with the material fate of mankind and neglects it unique understanding of human transcendence, and which regards itself as most cogently expressed in movements for social advance, will cease to relate to the spiritual needs of humanity. The interior life of man is not social. Wisdom recognizes the loneliness of the creature in the cold realities of the creation, and it sees that what most afflicts the human soul is not susceptible to merely human consolation.