Given that one of the reasons the Catholic Church canonizes people is as an example for members of the “Church Militant” (as people in the Church living on earth are called), it matters a great deal what sort of example people set who are venerated as “saints.” After that, a great deal depends on how people apply the example set.
The Catholic Church, for example, would not canonize, say, a reformed adulterer, if by doing so the person’s fans and followers would conclude that adultery is all right — as long as you get that last-minute repentance in . . . and maybe repentance is not all that necessary, if adultery is what really makes you holy. We must not be judgmental, you know (unless we really disagree with or dislike somebody. . .).
Does that sound like an exaggeration? It is not. A valid complaint many non-Catholics have about the Catholic Church is that it seems as if many Catholics think the Sacrament of Reconciliation (“Confession”) means that you can do anything you want, as long as you manage to make it to a confessional in time, and buy an indulgence or two.
All that means, however, is that the person who thinks he can sin all he wants through the week as long as he goes to confession on Saturday has more problems than he knows — such as the “double whammy” for the sin of presumption and whatever it was he did thinking it did not matter. Some disgruntled Catholics have complained that there is no “free lunch” in Catholicism, while one popular science fiction writer griped about the fact that there is a “catch” in every Catholic doctrine — meaning you cannot really pull the wool over God’s eyes, even if you devoutly believe that you should be able to.
The real problem, however, is one with which many Protestants are also familiar: the arrogance of the “saved.” Convinced Protestants with a solid grounding in common sense are no more in danger of falling into this error than are Catholics with “well-formed consciences.” There are those, however, in both the Catholic Church and the various Protestant sects, who believe that their personal “faith” in whatever it is they have “faith” in (usually some personal opinion) justifies anything they want to do.
Frankly, while I disagree with Martin Luther’s sola fide (“faith alone”) doctrine, even he did not go anywhere near as far along the path of arrogance as today’s adherents of various faith-based systems, especially all forms of socialism. Luther clearly restricted his “justification by faith” to purely religious matters (a matter of opinion), not the natural law and the sciences (matters of empirical fact).
Luther rejected the efficacy of works as meritorious for salvation, not logic or the empirical validity of scientific evidence in temporal matters — and he most certainly did not intend his doctrine to be taken as permission to sin. His statements about “sinning mightily” were, I think, intended to keep people from falling into despair, not an encouragement to vice.
True, Luther’s sola fide doctrine derived from the split between faith and reason in the 12th and 13th centuries that resulted from the debate between the Thomists, who accepted the primacy of the Intellect (reason, lex ratio), and the “Dunces” (followers of a distorted version of Duns Scotus’s thought) who accepted a transformed doctrine of the primacy of the Will (faith, lex voluntas). Luther’s break with Rome even eventually led to an even greater split between faith and reason, although this was obviously not his original intent.
This has not stopped today’s Professional Chestertonians and neo-distributists from “out-Luthering” Martin Luther. They have gone further than he ever did, and have gone with a completely faith-based system, to all intents and purposes rejecting reason altogether.
Yes, Luther did make assertions in matters of faith based on his personal authority, e.g., “Because I, Doctor Luther, will have it so!” Nevertheless, to the best of my knowledge, Luther never asserted a scientific claim that he demanded be accepted on the basis of anything other than reason. Luther may have given bad reasons for some of his theories, but at least they were reasons, not mere opinion or bare assertion.
Would that today’s Professional Chestertonians and neo-distributists were of the same mettle! Unrestrained by the demands of logical consistency and empirical validity, they continually assert claims in the social sciences that are clearly not true, and often contradict common sense and even empirical evidence. They ignore, mock, ridicule, even attack those who disagree with them in matters of social science. They base virtually everything on their claim that Chesterton’s social, political, economic, or any other kind of ideas are true because Chesterton or some other authority (usually a distorted understanding of what the Catholic Church teaches regarding the natural law) they accept said so — not because they can prove their case.
Why this is so bad, and why it will very likely result in a long-delayed canonization of Chesterton — if it comes at all — is something we will start to look at in our next posting.