Ema Green on Douthat’s new book


He is, in other words, someone sees doctrine—the teachings, the legal system, the bedrock principles grounded in text—as the animating force of Christianity. His book “assumes the Church needs a settled core of doctrine, a clear unbroken link to the New Testament and the early Church, for Catholicism’s claims and structure and demands to make any sense at all.” This is why he focuses so intently on issues related to human sexuality and marriage: These have become the primary symbolic battlefield for “larger and more comprehensive disagreements about the purpose of the Church, the authority of the Bible, the nature of the sacraments, the definition of sin, the means of redemption, the true identity of Jesus, the very nature of God.”

Pope Francis tends to privilege this story of lived experience and human communities when he talks about the Church. He often speaks about the need for clergy to have “the smell of the sheep,” to go out and be shepherds among the dirty, sinful flocks of believers rather than becoming “sad priests … in some sense becoming collectors of antiques or novelties,” as he said during his first Holy Thursday mass as pope. He largely favors a Vatican II-style devolution of power, giving individual pastors and bishops some room to adapt to the particular needs of their communities. As Douthat puts it, rather saltily, Francis has “an affinity for the kind of Catholic culture in which mass attendance is spotty but the local saint’s processions are packed—a style of faith that’s supernaturalist but not particularly doctrinal.”


About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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