Jack Mulder - "What Does it Mean to Be Catholic?"
2:12PM Jun 25, 2020
Jonathan J. Armstrong
Today answer delighted to be speaking with Dr. Jack Mulder, Jr. Dr. Mulder is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, USA, where he has lectured in philosophy since 2004. molder earned his BA degree in religion and philosophy from Hope College in 2000s, an MA in philosophy from Purdue University in 2003, and a PhD in philosophy from Purdue University in 2004. Dr. molders specializes in the history of philosophy, especially focusing on Kierkegaard and also sexual ethics. Dr. Mulder is the author of three books, Kierkegaard in the Catholic tradition, conflict and dialogue, in 2010, mystical and Buddhist elements and Kierkegaard religious thought, and the book that we'll be discussing today, What Does It Mean to Be Catholic, available from Bergman's publishers released 2015 I promoter, thank you for joining us today. Thank you. Appreciate it.
Dr. Mulder, to begin with, we're just gonna dive straight into the book if we can.
In the opening, you raise a very interesting point and you write this, it is not always easy to explain how the Catholic faith is distinctive, when distinctiveness is sometimes felt to tear at the Unity we so deeply desire. Is it ultimately proper to speak of Catholic distinctives? This is a book essentially written helping us understand what those Catholic distinctives are, what's your ultimate approach to that type of exposition of Roman Catholicism?
Oh, well, thanks. Thanks. And thanks for having me. I appreciate it. It's always enjoy talking, of course about this, but yeah, so there's a couple different questions there. One is that you know, is it appropriate to talk about distinctive as another one, I take it as that. You know? Well, what does it mean, to have this approach to Catholicism and that kind of thing? Well, maybe I'll try to what, you know, is it appropriate to talk about distinctives? First? You know, I do think it's appropriate, of course, otherwise, I wouldn't have written the book. But, you know, and but, you know, I think the reason is that our traditions within the kind of wider ecumenical body of Christianity do have their own distinctives. Now, there there are tragic and sort of polemical reasons for why they've developed in the way that they have but there's nonetheless you know, God can bring about good, even out of things that are evil, right and, and there is some beauty that each tradition has acquired through the years because it has kind of kept, it's the depth of the things that made it itself. Right. So yeah, I mean, they're, you know, the Catholic tradition has held together by by some distinctives. And I think there are some ways that Catholics do well to own those distinctives you know, in my particular environment, teaching at a college with a reformed heritage, but also, you know, kind of aspirations to be a real ecumenical community. And I think we've, you know, achieved some, some, some real successes in that regard. You know, it's, it's important not to dole your witness. Right. It's important not to, you know, to approach the conversation with the bearings and the kind of faith moorings that you actually have, because otherwise your ecumenical community ends up being just kind of a lowest common denominator. Let's all be shiny, happy people and get along. But the reality that would just hide the reality that there is division, and that we should mourn that. Right? We should grieve the fact that Christ's body is divided. And and that, you know, I mean, as I'll probably mention, later on, you know, I mean, there's some great, there's some great richness to the diversity of Christ's body, but there's also a scandal to our divisions.
And so yeah, I mean,
let's see, is it is it proper to talk about those distinctive So yeah, I mean, I think there I think it is we can we can name some of them. And I'm sure we'll get to some of them. But yeah,
I think what I'm asking here, Dr. Mohler is what's, what is so disarming about your book is written as a Christian to other Christians of another tradition, and I think we have angelical or we Protestants sometimes come to the dialog very suspicious. We're not going to be admitted by the Catholic Church as Christians of another tradition. And you're not writing the voice of the book, at least is not from the only true church to those who are pagans and Christians have no part of the body of Christ. That's right. The voice of the book seems to be and I want to see if I've got that, right. But it seems to be from one part of the church to uh, to other Christian traditions, and that's very disarming, it's very winsome. But is that fair to Roman Catholic dogma?
It is and it's actually it to, to not to ignore that would actually be unfair to Roman Catholic teaching, because in the Second Vatican Council, when the church released its decree on a humanism unit taught us right into Grazioli. Would it one of the first things it does is it emphasizes that when we're talking to other Christians that you know that we're talking to people who claim the baptism of the Lord and who acknowledged Jesus's as Lord, right? We're talking to other Christians, right now, we might have different ecclesiology issues. And we might, we might have ways of kind of seeing, you know, missing elements. And we might see, you know, there might be bigger or smaller missing elements from our various perspectives in that, right, but nevertheless, right. It's true that the Catholic Church sees itself as kind of the way in which Christ's Church subsists in this world, but at the same time, there are real elements of not only, you know, Christ's Church, but Christ's salvation in in other non other non Catholic Christian traditions. And so, we're not talking to I mean, we are talking regrettably, as as, as the church documents make clear, we're not regrettably working Talking to, as it says, separated Brethren, but the separation is a result of some some regrettable things that occurred where both sides, you know, were at various times in various ways to blame. Now, that's that's also in those documents, right? That both sides and at times were to blame. That doesn't mean that the divisions weren't regrettable, right? But it does mean that we're all called to repentance. And we're all called to find ways to seek unity in the Lord.
Hmm. Chapter one of your book in what does it mean to be Catholic is focused on scripture and tradition? Of course, this seems to be the theological foundation or platform that on which the original battles of the Reformation were fought and divided the church. What is the Roman Catholic view of Scripture, please?
Well, I can give a shout out that, uh, you know, I mean, as a Catholic, I bought Want to claim the resources of my tradition to be able to? to unpack that? And I think one of the one of the key texts there is Vatican Tuesday barebone, which is actually a very short reflection on scripture. But, but but very helpful. And I think one of the key things I'd want to emphasize about, you know, a Catholic view of Scripture and tradition is that scripture bears on repeatable and definitive witness to the one fundamental revelation of God to human humanity, and that one fundamental revelation is Jesus Christ. Right. And Jesus Christ is the word of God. And scripture is, of course, the Word of God to it insofar as it bears witness to the Word of God, of course, Jesus, right. You know, in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. Right. You know, and Jesus is that word. Right. And, and scripture bears witness to that word. No, it does so right, you know, again in an unrepeatable and definitive way, right. But it also does that through a kind of unique and I think I'm grateful to God right that scripture bears witness to the Lord in this unique way. It it bears witness to Christ through, you know, songs through, you know, understanding kind of the ritual tradition, the old covenant with the Jewish people whose fulfillment Jesus is right it bears witness through the writings of the apostles to instruct us how to live a good Christian life. And of course, most importantly it bears witness to us to to to Jesus at two was right, by teaching us to love to know and to remember the Lord on earth and, and, and and to long for him in heaven. And so I think, you know, again, there are a lot of literary devices that God shows to us that the Holy Spirit shows to us in inspiring scripture and All scripture is of course inspired. But but it's inspired in a way that respects the humanity and in some ways, the limitedness of the, the cultural kind of predicaments of the author's right. And so, yeah, I just think that's, that's a helpful way that God chose to reveal himself and so when we think about scripture, we need to pay attention is better to said to literary genres as well. So
thank you, sir. I'm gonna dive straight into problem points the book is is written as a helpful guide. To some of those problem points, so let me let me steer us right into those. What about purgatory? Dr. Mulder is that it may be something that saints through the ages have wished to be true. There is certainly a long history to purgatory in the Christian tradition. But it doesn't seem as though Jesus or the apostles held to the doctrine.
How can you relate to Catholic teaching and purgatory
to be suspicious Protestants?
Well, one of the things that I find interesting about your question to begin with is that you are picking up on how saints might have longed for it to be true, which is interesting. I mean, a lot of people tend to think of it as sort of this drab and gloomy doctrine, but for me, it's not it's a beautiful doctrine. And, and it's encouraging and helpful. And a couple reasons for why that's true. But one of the things I want to say is that I think the doctrine of purgatory is really keenly misunderstood and so I don't think we can flat footed Lee say that Jesus and the apostles didn't hold it. I think that when we understand what's really being being aimed at with that doctrine, I think we can understand how there are some elements that are being revealed about that doctrine in Scripture. So I think what one of the things I want to say first is that if you look at so Pokemon or the 16th, encyclical space Salvy, I think it was 2007 2008. It's this beautiful text about, you know, of hope. But there's a portion of it, that talks without really ever directly naming purgatory, but it's also a nod to some previous writings of his that, that did explicitly mentioned purgatory. You might have mentioned in the encyclical, but anyway and what's really beautiful about this Is that he talks about First Corinthians three. And he says, look, you know, when we're talking about people, you know, with this wood, hay and straw, right? And and some of these things are these people might be saved but only as through fire, right? On the one hand, right? If we take this naively substantial his view about purgatory that it's some kind of hunk of space out there where you're going to sort of, you know, go and then you go over here, then of course, you're going to find that not to attest to purgatory, but at the same time, there's something beautiful about what's being said there because for Pope Benedict, purgatory isn't about some kind of hunk of space where you got to sort of migrate and then may or may not go to go to heaven. purgatory is the going to heaven. purgatory is the purifying flame. That is the encounter with Christ Himself. Right, the encounter with Christ cannot cease to burn away are drops, right? It cannot cease to be a refiners fire, right? That would just not it the encounter with Christ is that right? It will burn away our dross and so really the only question for Catholics in in kind of ecumenical dialogue, I think here is are we aware of the dross being kind of burned away? Or are we sort of brought away to heaven without without being made aware of these transformations that need to occur? Right? Because some of us I think, are just, you know, if we reflect on the way the ways that people buy, it seems clear to us that, you know, some people die, you know, insufficiently mature in Christ, right.
And nevertheless, I think,
and the question is, well, of course, a loving God is going to bring that, that maturity to its fulfillment, right? And so the question then is just how is that going to happen? But that's one way of looking at it. Another way to look at it is just sort of historically right? The old saying, Lex, Lex around, looks around, he likes kradin D. You know, the law of prayer is the law of belief. Right? And so, historically, right, the church treasures this doctrine of purgatory, because she does pray for the dead. And this, of course, is something that CS Lewis captures very helpfully and letters to Malcolm, right. He just, he's just, of course, I pray for the dead, how could I not pray for the dead? You know, how would the rest of my prayer survive if I didn't pray for the dead? Right. And I think that bears witness to deeply felt sense among Christians through the ages, that there's something really right and good about praying for the dead. So
thank you for that exposition. Dr. Mohler. Let's get Continue to dive into some of the the obvious and known known problems here between Roman Catholics and Protestants. Marian dogmas and people infallibility would probably top the list is obstacles to medical progress. And rather than maybe asking you for a technical exposition of how could we work these things out? Can you tell us a story? How did you personally come to peace with the Marian dogmas and papal infallibility?
I can try that. Sure.
Well, I think in the case of, of marriage, Mary, I can I can certainly give that a go. One of the things I kind of talked about in the book is that you know, it's time when I was in graduate school, I remember kind of encountering a friend of mine and she was interested in feminist thought she was also a Christian and she was she we were just talking about some things about you know, the Faith and, you know, something came up about, you know, Jesus and Mary's motherhood and so forth. And and, and she said, Well, of course she, you know, she needs to voluntarily say yes because if she doesn't then she's raped. Right. And and you know, of course that's an interesting point and I think as a Protestant maybe I hadn't I hadn't really thought about it that that much before. But you know, the more I reflected on that, the more I thought, Wow, now here's a really unique partnership between God and, and Mary. And I mean, the Catechism talks about Mary manifesting kind of the spousal relation to God in this highly unique way. Because, you know, when we when we talk about Jesus's, you know, Father, we talked about God Of course, right, you know, conceived by the Holy Spirit's and so forth, but We also talk if we look, you know, for the other participant in that drama, it is, of course, Mary. Right. And, and that's just a highly unique partnership that I think is really unparalleled. And when we talk about a god respecting Mary and loving Mary, and, you know, engaging in this partnership with Mary, to bring his son into the world, I just think we need to realize that Mary's yes comes from a kind of grace filled existence that I think there would be some roadblocks to if she carried Original Sin around with her the same way that we do. And, and I think that's, that's something that really opened the question up for me. And, you know, then then, of course, you know, if you think about church teaching, and especially john paul, the second encyclicals redemptive Mater and stuff like that. You start to see a way in through the Scriptures to understand how mary loves us and how her yes is a yes for all of us.
Very good. What about the, the the people doctrines here papal infallibility? How did you personally come to terms with that Catholic talk doctrine?
Well, I mean, one of the ways I think that that I think helped for me was through coming to know and appreciate the teaching of the Pope's to begin with, right. We happen to be in a
I mean, in an interesting time for the papacy.
You know, you can disagree with john paul the second, you can disagree with Benedict 16th. You can disagree with Pope Francis. But these people aren't Leo the 10th. Right. These people aren't. These people are devoted servants of Christ. Right and These are people who, who have a real calling in this ministry for for Jesus and for his people. And and so, you know, I came to sort of appreciate their teaching ministry, probably chronologically before I became, I came to appreciate their teaching authority. But you know, when when you do that, and when you when you realize that, that their kind of teaching authority and their terrorism in that regard is something that is part of their teaching itself. You know, I start to listen more carefully. And, you know, you start to you start to look more carefully at some of those places in Scripture that that seemed the talk of course, about the College of apostles, which is something that Vatican two, you know, Vatican 118 69 1870 kind of different papal infallibility, but Vatican Two One of the nice things that did was it set that papal infallibility in its proper context so that we understood the way that papal infallibility was in communion with the Pope's brother bishops. Right. And so on the one hand, you know, a bishop isn't isn't going to effectively exercise his Episcopal ministry when he's not in communion with the Pope. But at the same time a bishop is the bishop is a bishop, right? There's no kind of new ordination for the Pope. And, you know, as some, as so often said, you know, the bishops are not kind of managers of a branch office of the Vatican, right. There's those are those are real churches, and those are real diocese that that are nevertheless in communion with the pope but, but have that ministry as a shared service to the Lord. So
Dr. molder, you have been reared in the Protestant tradition, you are well versed in reformed Protestantism during your younger years, perhaps as a student at Hope College. You've been teaching at Hope College for now over a decade and you're teaching at your alma mater as a Roman Catholic, your, your spiritual journey has taken you on both sides of this fence. If If I can say that, what is the major difference? And I know there are many, many differences, but if you'd be willing to try to distill it down for us, in your view, what's the primary difference between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism?
Well, that's a really actually a very difficult question. To answer in a way that sort of in a way that I think, respects both traditions and the way that I really do want to do because the reformed tradition is a beautiful tradition. I love it. I respect it. It served me well. And I continue to, to consult it and, and appreciate it. And so, one of the things that's really interesting about that question is that, you know, here's a tradition that I think owes a lot of its formation to some of the polemics of the Reformation. And Catholicism was some of its some of its integrity to aspects of the counter reformation to. But when you get past the polemics and you try to figure out what are the best, what's the reformed tradition in its best light, and what's the Catholic tradition in its best light? There's a lot more room for kind of dialogue and an interesting conversation than I think we always see at first.
I remember, you know,
Cornelius planning, I think he's still president over at Calvin seminary or something. He wrote a little piece on what does it mean to be reformed? And he said, when you really get down to it, you know, we aren't Right, the reformed tradition, of course, I'm not a part of the reformed tradition anymore in the ordinary sense, but
you know, when you really, really get down to it right?
It is a kind of Mere Christianity style devotion to the Lord. Now, of course, that's something that, you know, and we can have our misgivings about the term Mere Christianity. But again, when you see both traditions in their best lights, there's a lot of room for dialogue. Here's an example for you. When I was kind of investigating the Catholic tradition, thinking about whether it'd become Catholic, you know, is a good reformed kid I had I had my kind of bearings in how all life is spiritual and and you know, the sanctification of ordinary life and that was something that's really important to me. And I, and I couldn't have seen any journey spiritual journey that didn't recognize that deeply important truth. But St. Francis desales introduction into the devout life is just a wonderful text that talks explicitly in at length with with helpful meditations on laid devout life within the Catholic tradition. And it's a beautiful text. Again, here, here's some, here's a way that the both of these traditions can can respect one another and understand the spiritual contribution each has. I mean, they're, I mean, so again, best of the traditions, interesting dialogue, that doesn't mean that there aren't tendencies, right? There are tendencies that kind of pull on the Unity we might want to have, right. And, you know, some of those tendencies spring from good things, right, reformed. I take it my sense of the reformed tradition, and again, that's not where my expertise is, but I try to speak as best I can from a personal place, but my sense is Other form tradition is that it has
a kind of well trained
nervousness about encroaching upon the majesty of God by sort of tainting it with the you know, human interference. I can respect that I think it's true, we of course want to be suspicious of idolatry, right? We want to keep the creator and the creature separate. Yes, we do. Right. That's very important. But I think it also, you know, is, is interesting when you realize from a Catholic standpoint, that there just is a lot of synergy between God and humanity and in the Catholic tradition, right. God works through the saints. God works through Mary. You know, there isn't this kind of as much of a worry about contaminating human and divine agency Grayson works are pretty slick. seamless in the Catholic tradition. It's not it's not felt as much of a roadblock. You know? So again, I think this these are just tendencies really. And I think again, the best of the reformed tradition, the best of the Catholic tradition have have really interesting conversations when, when you when, when you isolate those things, but but you know, again, I think well meaning reformed Christians and well meaning Catholic Christians don't often see eye to eye, and I think they can do better.
Thank you for that reflection. If I can close with this last question to question that. I've been asking all of our guests on this program. What would it mean for the church to be united today? How would we recognize this unity if it were to occur and what can we work as Christians towards How can we work as Christians towards this unity? Thanks.
Well, I mean, this is gonna come off may be a little bold at the beginning. But I do think that we need to recognize that we can't have unity without truth. Right. And that I again, I want to say that we should celebrate the diversity that Christ's global body has, we should realize that their great contributions to understanding the faith that come from, you know, the the wisdom of various cultural traditions that help us glimpse, you know, the gospel from a new lens. But also at the end of the day, right, there are some things in which we're not just diverse but divided. And that's a problem. That's scandal, Christ praise for unity. And that's not what he meant. Right. But I also think we can fixate too much on trying to accomplish this. Unity and truth on our own. We can't do that. That's got to be the work of the Holy Spirit. And, and I think we have to trust the Holy Spirit to do that, to do that work, but one of the things kind of following up on how the best dialogue I think comes when you get the best of each of the traditions to talk to the best of the other traditions is I think the best way for dialogue to move forward I think is when you have people who love their traditions and tap the best of their traditions and seek out how to how to be reformed. In you know, in in, in pardon me ecumenical dialogue, interfaith dialogue is different than ecumenical dialogue. You know, how to tap those resources within our own traditions to see how kind of spiritually agile they can be. And I think that's where the best conversations come. You know, people loving their traditions realizing that they have traditions realizing that they have a history And in love one another with the help of those resources. So, I mean, from a Catholic perspective, that probably is going to mean that we should be careful with, with claims about non denominational isms. Sometimes I think there's a real there's a really praiseworthy desire that stems from nondenominational ism, I think, but at the same time I think what it tries to do is preempt the real dialogue that needs to happen sometimes. And, and I get nervous about that, because there's beauty in the Catholic Church, for me and beauty in the Catholic tradition, and there's beauty in the reformed tradition, even in those elements that would seem to divide us. And if we don't own those elements, we're not going to appreciate the fullness of God's revelation in Christ and So, you know, at the end of the day, there's one faith, one Lord, one baptism. You know, Christ didn't establish, you know, thousands of churches established one church, right, but and we probably aren't going to get to that kind of sacramental and doctrinal unity anytime this side of the eschaton. But yeah, I think I think there's a way to preempt and short circuit that that ecumenical move, and I think we can we can do better. With the help of the Holy Spirit, of course.
It's been our pleasure today to be speaking with Dr. JACK molder, Jr, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, USA and author of the book that we've been discussing today. What does it mean to be Catholic available this year? 2015 and from virgins, publishers. Dr. Mohler, thank you so much for being with us today.
Thanks very much.