Many of the great saints down the ages - such as St Athanasius and St Bernard of Clairvaux to name just two - were similarly divisive figures, whose campaigns against error in their day made them many enemies.
Those who, like myself and other orthodox contributors in places like Cath News, Cath Pews, our own blogs and other places, occasionally or frequently engage in modern day versions of these same debates don't claim to be great saints.
But are we following, in our own small way, in the steps of these great models, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit?
Does the 'New Evangelization' demand that we act to evangelize within as well as reach out?
Should we be 'divisive'?
The clear answer from many quarters would be no.
Write something that insists on orthodoxy in the face of error in places like Cath News, and you will be berated as subscribing to a 'psychology of militancy', a failure to understand 'nuance' (presumably just like the Vatican failed to understand Bishop Morris' 'nuancing' of his infamous Pastoral Letter?), and treated to a Coyne-esq rant on driving people out of the Church!
But the idea that we should paint over the cracks and ignore internal divisions within the Church is not, alas, restricted to a vocal minority of the liberals who dominate the Cath News boards however.
Rather, the view that insistence on orthodoxy constitutes 'extremism' and is to be deplored is being actively promoted even through dioceses, in events and on websites, for example in the form of talks by people like the Vice-Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, Greg Craven.
Luckily, A Country Priest Blog has an excellent post on this very subject at the moment, debunking the 'What Would Jesus Do' mentality, and pointing to the reality of Our Lord's own style of positively goading the opposition, and even his own disciples, at times.
Guest blogger Joel Peart* points notes that:
"They suppose that Jesus was accepting and tolerant. I’m not really sure where they got this impression though, because the bible doesn’t paint him like that at all. He’s actually rather uncompromising and divisive; his attitude generally said, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”. Where we’re told there’s an even hotter fire being stoked. See John 6. He was goading his disciples to walk away, to the point where Peter felt the need to justify himself still hanging around. Yikes."
He also comments on the problems of the 'Jesus as a moral exemplar' model, when detached from consideration of the Tradition:
"The other time it [WWJD] might be used is by someone faced with moral dilemma. So in their mind, they try taking themselves back to Jerusalem in 33AD, or they have Our Blessed Lord teleported into their time and place. It deliberately does away with 2000 years of teaching that has been founded on scripture, guided by Holy Spirit and proven in the lives of the saints. And this is supposedly a good thing."
The fantasy Jesus
Joel goes on to point out that separating the Gospels from the Church leads to a "Jesus who is a figment of your imagination."
A good example of this is the Cath News debate on Church Architecture. One of my protagonists over there was arguing that expenditure on welfare should always trump expenditure on worship. When I pointed him to the story of St Mary Magdalene using expensive ointment to wash Our Lord's feet, and being taken to task by Judas for not selling it and giving it to the poor (St John Chapter 10) as an example of God's teaching on the priority of worship over welfare, he replied, inter alia:
"....Besides, maybe Jesus was having a tired day and threw away words he later would have insisted must be taken in context. Even he had to have some down time!"
Can one really engage in dialectics when our starting assumptions are so opposed?
All of this points to the challenges in engaging in these debates (can we call it dialogue?!).
The first and biggest one is just getting your stuff posted, as a Canberra Observer noted on another post: call a spade a spade and you will find your posts rejected in some places!
The second though, is when you peel back the layers, the starting assumptions of liberals and catholics are almost diametrically opposed. If we aren't even vaguely on the same page, is there really any point to debate?
Take the Church architecture discussion. My main protagonist over there, Mark Johnson, eventually came clean and argued against one of the most fundamental propositions that lie behind the Churches devotion to the arts (including architecture) down the ages, suggesting that beauty does not in fact lead to God (you might want to read his whole post, since he claims I've misunderstood the 'nuances' of he is saying). Here is the quote I have allegedly misunderstood:
"The 'feelings' inspired by 'beauty' are not the sure path to God, but only to our own comforting sensibilities. It is a despairing step, not one of freedom."
So in his view, instead of churches pointing us to heaven and God, they represent a flight from the problems of this world.
And one can't really argue from Scripture with him, since he rejects the long tradition of orthodox commentaries on the relevant passages of Scripture, characterising the Navarre Bible for example, as being a case of "Rancid wine in old skins".
Another commentator, Francis, keeps seeming to forget that Jesus is God (!), suggesting for example that references to the Tetragrammaton in the Old Testament do not include Jesus. She (or he) similarly argues that bits of the (infallible) Magisterium can be freely discarded. She also fails to understand just why protestant scholars might have a different understanding of the importance of churches than the Catholic tradition!
Can one really have a sensible debate in these circumstances?
In theory, I suppose, there is a point in at least trying to signal the orthodox position.
The difference between Catholica and Cath News, for example, is that in the case of the first, Mr Coyne makes it clear that he is only seeking engagement by like minded people (fair enough), whereas Cath News claims a broader mandate, even if in practice it acts more like the Tablet, providing lines, particularly thorugh Cath Blog, to feed a particular liberal mentality.
Still, maybe the struggle is worthwhile if it causes at least one reader to have an 'ah hah' moment?
But to turn the tide, what really seems to be needed is action that is far more fundamental and far-reaching, far more radical agenda, because incrementalism and rational argument by themselves is surely never going to change these hearts and minds.
What is to be done?
*Apologies, I originally attributed the post to Fr Corrigan not noticing that he had turned his blog over temporarily to a guest blogger. That will teach me to try and post while not really keeping up with the blogs...Do hope Joel will start his own blog when Fr C returns however!