JosephPearce_112817.png

Joseph Pearce

Joseph Pearce is Senior Editor at the Augustine Institute, editor of the St. Austin Review and the author of books on Shakespeare, Tolkien, Chesterton and other Christian literary figures.


Writing for Faith & Culture

We welcome the submission of articles of between 600 and 1,500 words on topics related to Catholic faith and culture. Articles should be emailed as Word attachments to Joseph Pearce.

Circumstantial Catholicism

Circumstantial Catholicism

On August 30, 2007 I answered a basic but important question: who has the authority to interpret Scripture and establish doctrine? I was received into the Roman Catholic Church. Why? Everything I learned from the Bible and history pointed to Apostolic Authority as Jesus’ intended continuation of His authority and mission. I had concluded that the Church was and is the fullness of the teachings of Jesus. It was and is the Church he founded. 

In the years prior to that, I was an Evangelical Protestant who became well-acquainted with the theology surrounding the “fallen nature of Man.” I saw it often played out in scandals, both big and small, involving tele-evangelists or local pastors or church staff or ministry leaders as they were caught in a variety of compromising situations. I was grieved but stopped being surprised early on.

Later it became almost predictable when I saw clergy and ministry leaders succumb to a kind of “exceptionalism,” believing that they were exempt from the teachings they expected everyone else to follow. Their giftedness in ministry led them to conclude that they were special and deserved their secret self-indulgences as a kind of reward for their hard work. Or, sadly, they believed God would not allow their secret sins to go public because of the great ministries they had built for Him. Some of these leaders were enabled by their followers – some willfully, some naively or ignorantly. But they ended the same way. 

With each scandal I lamented our fallenness. I prayed for those involved to find healing, just as I pray for healing with my own sinfulness. Each scandal, I determined, was simply our sinfulness colliding with the righteousness He called us to – sometimes in the most terrible ways. 

I also reasoned that the Bible was one story after another of God using sinful people to accomplish His work. After Adam and Eve’s indiscretion, there was no other plan. In the midst of it all, I never thought that somehow God or Jesus or His teachings were the problem. Our Human Condition and its inherent weaknesses didn’t change the Truth of God. Terrible behavior didn’t mean we as Christians believed lies - even if some of us were living lies.

In many ways, what I believed as an Evangelical Protestant, set me up perfectly as a Catholic. I knew all about the apostle Peter, who proclaimed Jesus as the Son of God in one moment and in another denied Him three times. Peter’s later denial did not negate the truth of Peter’s affirmation of faith. Jesus was no less the Son of God because Peter had failed to follow Him in the darkest hours of His Passion. So, for me, the Roman Catholic Church was no less the full embodiment of Christ’s truth though its leaders often failed to follow Him.

When I was received into the Catholic Church, I determined that I would not be a Circumstantial Catholic. I would not allow heinous behavior, misguided opinions, a misapplication of liturgy, bad music, or the worst examples of the fallenness of Man within the Church to put me off. I clung to the truth of Christ, as delivered to His Church, regardless of the bad witness the members of the Church might sometimes give of that truth. Circumstances be damned.

That’s why, in spite of these sickening scandals, I remain Catholic.

True Reformers

True Reformers

Intellectual Charity

Intellectual Charity