Let’s face it squarely. The Catholic Church is in crisis. The largest denomination in America is former Catholics. Numbers of priests, nuns and brothers have plummeted drastically. The priests we do have are old and ready to retire and to replace them we are importing priests from the developing world–from countries that have their own desperate need for priests. Laypeople have abandoned the church in droves. Moral scandal besets us. Financial scandal burdens us. The hierarchy are weighed down by secularism and hamstrung by bureaucrats, money men, insurance bullies and government legislation. Most of all there has been a colossal lack of faith. The beautiful Catholic traditions have been replaced with trendy, crass and shallow substitutes. Once known for sublime music we now deal in pop rock, country Western ditties and Broadway tunes. Once known for soaring architecture and breathtaking art we now have church buildings that resemble a cross between a flying saucer and an inner city parking garage.
What went wrong?
The problems are not simply Vatican 2. Vatican 2. Vatican 2. The rot is much deeper than that and the roots go back 5oo years and further. The essential problem is the clash between a stone age religion and a space age world. The roots of the Christian faith reach right back into the religion of the Hebrews which springs from the most ancient civilizations of the Middle East. The language and concepts of that religion are mystical, mythical and mysterious. They served well up through the Middle Ages, but 500 years ago things began to shift. Western culture entered the modern age and the rest of the world would eventually follow. The shifts in world view were reflected in every way: philosophy, technology, economics, politics, theology, art…every aspect of culture.
Humanity–not just the Catholic Church–has had to roll with it and adapt. To understand where we are now we really have to understand the trends and movements not just of the last 50 years, but of the last 500 years. We can only understand where we are by understanding where we’ve come from, and we can only chart our way to the future successfully by knowing where we’ve been and where we’re going. I happen to believe that the church is going through a crisis that is like giving birth. Something new is about to be given, and these are the birth pangs.
For some time now on this blog I have been trying to communicate the need to study church history so we can know where we’ve been and where we’re going. I’ve produced two podcast series: Triumphs and Tragedies is a 23 part series covering the whole span of church history- basically one century per episode. John Allen’s Future Church examines trends in the contemporary church. Allen’s book-written in 2009–was studied in 2019 to see how his predictions were playing out ten years later. These podcasts are available here through my blog and free at BreadBox Media.
Now I am planning a new video course. The Church in an Age of Revolution is based on my idea that church history can be broken down into 500 year epochs. The first 500 years were the Roman period. The second 500 years were a Dark Age. The third 500 years saw the flowering of Christendom in the high Middle Ages. The fourth 500 years from the sixteenth century to the 20th is an age of Revolution. Western culture surges into the modern age in the sixteenth century and is faced with huge challenges and opportunities. How does the church respond?
This six week video course will be taught live through Zoom classes. I’ll be providing some notes week by week and giving some reading lists for those who want to study further. Each talk will be about 45 minutes with fifteen minutes or so of questions at the end. We’ll record the lectures and they will be available in the new video section of the blog. The way to participate is to sign up as a Donor Subscriber at the Promotion Level or above. This will automatically give you access to the course and to the rest of the video content on the blog. The course begins on Tuesday evening September 15 at 8:30 EST. Go here to learn more.