13 October 2010

Are you Catholic or are you Christian? What?


"Oh, you're not Christian, you're Catholic." That was the declaratory statement I received a few years ago upon arriving in Korea from the Korean staff member who came to meet me. I was most perplexed and replied that I was indeed a Christian. This caused him much confusion.

It is very much like the old question "Are you Catholic or are you Christian?", as if the two are somehow mutually exclusive. Yet, in Korea that is precisely what they are. Catholics (Roman, Old Catholic, Anglican, etc.) and Christians are two different things. The Christians, by the way, are the protestants...in case you haven't figured that out already. I have quite literally been told by a Presbyterian minister that we are of two different religions. Not denominations, but religions. The Methodists, Baptists, etc., he considered all the same religion as his. They are the Christians here, while Catholics are not Christians, but Catholics. This left me scratching my head in wonderment, though the more time I have spent in Korea, the less surprised I am by it.

This is not the only place, though, where many people think Catholics are not Christians. One need only do an internet search to find plenty of such examples. I am completely baffled why or how anyone could actually believe such things. Then again, I have been told by a protestant that they use a plain cross, while Catholics use a crucifix, with the reason given as "our Jesus is in Heaven, while their (the Catholics') Jesus is still on the cross." Never mind the clear Biblical violation such "logic" would imply. Perhaps no one ever explained to him that it's the same Jesus! There is only one Jesus! Of course, with a belief like that, not even knowing the symbolic reasons for the plain cross and the crucifix (Catholics certainly use both), it is not surprising that they might just believe that Catholics and Christians are somehow two different things.

I can only imagine this misconception is the result of centuries of propaganda. A simple reading of a history book on the matter of Church origin ought to clear up the matter quite quickly.

The Christian Church was founded by Jesus Christ Himself, giving the authority to the Apostles and their successors. Peter was set as First Among Equals, the Rock upon which the Church would be built. This is in the Bible. There was only one Church, the Holy Catholic Church of Christ (which means "universal church"). The Romans weren't throwing "Catholics" into the Colosseum with lions, they were throwing Christians. Yes, there were some minor schisms and political bickering, but sadly that's the way of it with us humans.

The first split was the East/West split, forming what is now "Catholic" in the West under the principal patriarchate of the Pope, i.e., the Bishop of Rome, and "Orthodox" in the East, under the principal patriarchate of the Patriarch of Constantinople. Then orthodox developed into what you see today, i.e., essentially along national boundaries. In the west the next split was over an unfortunate political matter between Henry VIII and the Holy Father led to the severing of ties. It should be pointed out here that Henry VIII did not found the Anglican Church. It was founded by the Holy Father's authority about 1400 years ago when Saint Augustine was sent to become the "Apostle of the English." The terms "Anglican" and "Anglican Rite" were well in use essentially from the beginning, and certainly long before Henry VIII. The largest problem was the influence of the Protestant Reformation that came later under the rule of Elizabeth I.

From the Anglicans and Romans alike, protestant denominations sprouted, declaring tings such as Rome was false and, in England, that the Church of England was also flawed. Many of these made their way to the New World, particularly in the northern colony of Massachusetts.

They make their claim that the Romans and Anglicans are flawed, and therefore they are true Christians. Now, even if we take it as a given that they believe this, they need only look at a history book (something they seem determined not to do) to know that the Catholic Church has as much claim to being Christian as they do. Indeed, the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, to include all those in Apostolic Succession, are the "original Christians." Who do you think wrote the Bible?

The further protestant error is quite simple, and that is they simultaneously claim to be guided only by the Bible (which they often claim to take literally) and also ignore large portions of the Bible. One of my favorites is the claim that the Hail Mary is somehow a vain, evil "Catholic thing." Yet, the Hail Mary is in the Bible. Perhaps they missed that one....

Couple with this the fact that they either place their knowledge and interpretation of the Bible over the collective wisdom of Church scholars over the past 2000 years or they simply choose to ignore scholars whom they themselves deem inaccurate. This sounds like the height of arrogance to me. Yet, the Bible tells us plainly that we are not free to come up with our own individual interpretations of the Bible. This is the duty of the Church and one of the reasons Christ gave her to us.

There is unfortunately no cure for ignorance in many cases. Trying to explain to someone who doesn't wish to listen often accomplishes nothing more than reinforcing their own views. I do, though, wish more people would see the big picture and get over this denominationalism. Indeed, I wish people sometimes would just pick up a history book...and read it.