Knox Answers: If the Catholic Church is True, why all the Sinners?ADAM BOWERS
In the hundred years 870-970 twenty-five Popes reigned, many of them violently done to death. It was a period of unparalleled disorder, violence, depravity in all ranks of Church and State alike. How in the world can the Church's claims about itself be true in light of such a history?
In one of his lesser-known books entitled Difficulties, A Correspondence About the Catholic Religion between Mgr. Ronald Knox & Sir Arnold Lunn (1932), Knox exchanges letters with Lunn, an English peer and Anglican, concerning the truth of Catholicism. Some of the writing is long-winded (particularly Lunn's, who seems more interested in impressing the reader with his knowledge than anything else), but Knox usually manages to reduce his arguments very neatly. Although the book is decidedly pro-Catholic, I think that Knox objectively prevails in presenting the better position.
The primary argument proposed by Lunn in his first letter to Knox concerns the claims of history that in the past centuries, the Papacy:
...became the plaything of rival factions of Roman nobles, probably the most turbulent and vicious of all European history, who for more than a century forcibly intruded onto the papal chair Popes according to their will — licentious youths, feeble old men, worldly sycophants. In the hundred years 870-970 twenty-five Popes reigned, many of them violently done to death. It was a period of unparalleled disorder, violence, depravity in all ranks of Church and State alike.
Lunn asks how in the world the Church's claims are true in light of this history:
I find it difficult to believe that Christ was ever officially represented on earth by 'licentious youths, feeble old men, worldly sycophants.' To describe a Borgia as 'the Vicar of Christ' seems to me almost blasphemous.
Fair enough. We see this same argument used a lot today. There's plenty from the Church's history: just a few examples include the Inquisition, the treatment of Galileo, and the sale of indulgences. We've even had a number of popes who were truly bad men. Most recent is the priestly sexual abuse scandal, cited by many opposed to the Church's teachings in order to establish a basis for the argument that the Church has "lost its moral authority."
Knox's response is brief and effective. First, he notes the distinction between person and office. For instance, you pull over your car at the summons of a Chicago policeman, "because he represents law and order, although you may know that he takes bribes from bootleggers."
If you take the "Catholic view," Knox says, "it is hard to see why an immoral life (for example), if it does not invalidate the sacraments which a particular priest administers, should invalidate the public actions of a particular Pope, since the Pope is the Vicar of Christ in his public capacity."
We want and hope for good, virtuous and holy popes, bishops, priests, etc. We want and hope for them because we know that these are the attributes Jesus wants, and the Church needs. But Jesus doesn't say only good people will make up the Church.
Rather, looking at Peter and Judas as prime examples, both men were sinners. Both men lacked virtue in certain things at certain times. Both men denied Our Lord, even. But what distinguished Peter from Judas was that Peter returned. He recognized his failure, and he sought Christ's mercy. Jesus restored Peter to his place, even though some might have said it was not a good idea, considering Peter's personality and record.
Even the most virtuous men and women of the Church are still sinners. It is the obstinate refusal to repent that defeats the salvation of the soul, and brings scandal to the Church. This obstinate refusal is personal on the part of the actor, and is not attributable to the Church herself. It is the same "non serviam" spoken by the Evil One. It is in spite of, not because of, the holiness of the Church.
For the Apostles, it was 11 out of 12. Frankly, the record of good popes versus bad is better than that.
Adam Bowers. "Knox Answers: If the Catholic Church is True, why all the Sinners?" Quartermaster of the Barque (September 3, 2013).
Reprinted with permission from the author.
Adam Bowers is a convert to the Catholic Church, a "house-husband", homeschooling father to four, and an attorney. In addition to his ongoing study of the Catholic Church from the perspective of a layman in the Church Militant, his other passions include offering friends and family his take on "Catholic hospitality" in the form of homebrewed beer, house-made charcuterie, things cooked over fire, and rustic cuisine (i.e., good food, good drink, good company, bringing us all closer to our good and loving God). Adam also dispenses pints, provisions, and orthodox Catholic Joy at his blog, Quartermaster of the Barque (http://www.qmbarque.com). He and his family live in Northern California.
Copyright © 2013 Adam Bowers
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