Sunday, 13 May 2012

Not for respectable people...?

So the novelist Hilary Mantel thinks the Catholic Church is not for 'respectable people.' [here citing, quite predictably but a little naively, the horrific incidence of clerical child abuse, and institutional cruelties of other kinds. Yet  the fact that these sins are so glaringly opposed to the Church's own teachings to a certain extent disproves her argument even if it doesn't overcome her rightful but misdirected sense of repugnance. We all suffer because of the flaws of a fallen human nature, our own and those of others: it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise to learn that the Church herself is not immune even from the most grievous of them. The devil himself often comes in the guise of an angel of light. But the 'holiness' of the Church derives not from the purity of its earthly members but from its union with Him who is without sin and now sits at the right hand of the Father.
I  know this is not what she has in mind, but her choice of words is rather unfortunate. No, the church isn't for the respectable, the bien-pensant, the fashionable and those who wish to run with the herd - or the wolf-pack. When any Christian community, Catholic, Anglican, Protestant or Orthodox, appeals to such, then it is a clear sign that it has lost its way and needs to pay greater attention to the voice of the Lord, who induced a similar aversion, the Gospels tell us, among 'respectable people'..
And didn't St Paul say something very similar about the first Christians.....

"For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption; therefore, as it is written, "Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord." 
(1 Corinthians 1. 26-31)

It's so easy to attack the Christian faith for those in its ranks who number among  the evil, and the bad, not to mention the downright mediocre and hypocritical (although it is more than somewhat pharisaical to suppose we - sinners that we are - might not be among that number ourselves) and ignore the good, the joyfully self-sacrificing and the utterly saintly. And they are out there - we know some of them.


  1. And (a point often overlooked) this is precisely what the Church teaches about Sin.

    Nice people, "good" people, respectable people do bad things.

    If Christianity is true one would expect Christians to fail - and fail spectacularly.

  2. She can't possibly be so lacking in self-awareness to realise she is confirming a witticism of Wilde's more than a century ago:

    “The Catholic Church is for saints and sinners alone. For respectable people, the Anglican Church will do."


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