Friday, August 31, 2007
I have a slightly different reaction to Steve B's question than Fr. Araujo. I think it's impossible to take the position that Henry VIII's split from Rome or the schism of the East from West, or the Protestant Reformation, were somehow not schisms within Catholicism. That is to say, the RC Church has its history of disunion, notwithstanding (and, indeed, at times precisely because of) its rigidly hierarchical structure or the pretensions of the successors of Peter. As Hans Kung (I think) has observed, too rigid an insistence unity can be just as destabilizing as an utter lack of concern for it. That said, I have no doubt that the more centralized organizational structure of the Catholic Church is in part responsible for its relative stability.
But I would add to that explanation a difference in the way Catholics and Protestants relate to their respective churches. It has long seemed to me that Protestants view their denominational affiliation far more as a choice than do Catholics. This fact would seem to explain the phenomenon of the Catholics Fr. Araujo describes (a category into which I no doubt fall as well) who insist on calling themselves Catholic even though they don't agree with everything said by the successor of Peter. I am Catholic (although perhaps, based on what he says in his post and what he knows of my views, Fr. Araujo disagrees with that statement), and (I'm quite sure Fr. Araujo would disagree with this) I believe I would continue to be Catholic in some sense even if I attempted to completely sever my ties to this Church into which I and my ancestors were born. Even if Fr. Araujo is right and I'm wrong about the facts of the matter, this strong fidelity to the institution, this resistence to exit, even by people who disagree with the hierarchy at times and who might, were they from some other tradition, strike out on their own in search of a more congenial community (they're certainly out there), also contributes (as a behavioral matter) to the institutional stability of the Catholic Church. I'm not sure this explanation depends on the Church's hierarchical nature, though the two explanations may not be wholly unrelated. But this second explanation strikes me as sounding more in culture and identity than in organizational structure.