How can a Christian live in culture?

Father Julián Carrón, Communion and Liberation leader, to discuss his new book

Therese Bussen

Following the release of his book Disarming Beauty in May, Father Julián Carrón, international leader of the Communion and Liberation movement, will be speaking in Denver next month on Oct. 10 at the Denver Press Club at 7 p.m. to discuss the themes and ideas he proposes in his book.

Curtis Martin, founder of FOCUS (The Fellowship of Catholic University Students), and Michael Huemer, philosophy professor at CU Boulder, will join him in the discussion, who will each speak for 20 minutes on their perspectives of the book and then ask Father Carrón questions.

Rather than doing a book tour, Father Carrón decided to have a dialogue about the ideas and themes in Disarming Beauty with local leaders, encouraging them to offer their perspective whether they’re Christian or not, and to examine the main point of his book: How does a Christian live in a culture that’s changed so much today?

“When I decided to publish this book, I tried to verify whether Christian faith could offer a contribution to the challenges we all are facing today,” Father Carrón told Denver Catholic. “I’m interested in meeting different people in order to enter in dialogue with them, to receive suggestions or criticism that allow me, and I hope others, to understand our time better and what the challenges are that the Christian faith has to face today.”

Following other recently-released books like The Benedict Option and Strangers in a Strange Land, which have also grappled with this same question, Father Carrón’s Disarming Beauty offers unique and provoking ideas.

“Our time is somehow unique. Many of the past certainties are collapsing before us. Many of us are bewildered without knowing how to deal with this situation,” Father Carrón said. “We are less presumptuous than in the past. We are more open to enter in dialogue with other’s experience. I’m convinced that this is a historical moment to show what Christianity is about.

“In a context of freedom, we can testify the beauty of the Christian faith without support other than its beauty,” Father Carrón continued. “I remain surprised by the reactions of different people before this way of living the Christian faith. They are so shocked that they discover a new interest for something that they considered definitively closed.”

Ultimately, Father Carrón responds to the question of the book by offering the idea that Christians need not fear culture or where it’s headed — we have Christ, and the time we are placed in for good reason is an opportunity for us to give a new kind of witness.

“Fear is a symptom of weakness of faith. Christianity doesn’t have panic facing today’s challenges,” Father Carrón  said. “Christianity was born in a context in which there were different versions of living Judaism (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, ect.) and spread in a multicultural world, as the Roman Empire, soon after. Ancient Christians could communicate the newness of Christian faith without having been blocked by this multicultural environment. Why can’t Christians today do the same and look to our historical circumstances as an opportunity instead of an obstacle?”

The event, which is open to the public, is free. Following the discussion, books will be on sale and there will be an opportunity to meet Father Carrón at a no-host cocktail (self-paid drinks).

Holly Peterson, a member of the Communion and Liberation community who has helped organize the event, echoed Father Carrón’s sentiments in the book.

“I’m really excited about his desire, and the desire of other people, to dialogue about what he’s saying in Disarming Beauty, which is that there is this new cultural context [as Christians] that we shouldn’t be afraid of,” Peterson said. “Father Carrón is someone who is not afraid to dive into that context…[and say], ‘I’m disarmed because I am so full with Christ.’ I’m really excited for his perspective…we’re so afraid of different, politically, or with religions, but we shouldn’t be afraid.”

COMING UP: 500 years later, who was Luther?

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Hero, villain, heretic, saint, reformer, corrupter, man of integrity, bombastic glutton. Which image of Luther should we believe? Because Luther primarily sought not to reform abuses in the Church but to reform the Church’s beliefs, Catholics cannot recognize him as a true reformer or a holy man. Nonetheless, it is widely agreed that Luther played a major role in shaping the modern world. With the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant movement he initiated approaching on October 31st, we have been given a number of new books to assess his legacy.

Paul Hacker, Luther’s Faith: Martin Luther and the Origin of Anthropocentric Religion, preface by Pope Benedict XVI (Emmaus, 2017).

Hacker’s book provides an in-depth, theological analysis of the issue that stands at the heart of the Reformation: Luther’s teaching on salvation by faith alone. Pope Benedict’s preface tells us that the Reformation dispute fundamentally concerned Luther’s “turning away from the center of the Gospel” (xxii). Emmaus released a new edition of Hacker’s book for the anniversary this year. It was published originally in 1970 (in English translation), the fruit of Hacker’s own intense study of Luther’s teaching on faith that led him into the Catholic Church from German Lutheranism.

Catholics agree with Protestants that salvation comes only through faith. The key issue of dispute, which Hacker reveals, is Luther’s subjective emphasis of absolute, personal certainty, which cannot be undermined even by serious sin. Hacker describes Luther’s faith as reflexive, that is turned back on oneself, by emphasizing subjective experience and personal surety more than anything else. He describes how Luther differs from the Catholic position: “Faith is the way to, or the perquisite of, salvation, but Luther makes it coincide with salvation itself. This becomes possible because he has first identified salvation with the consciousness of being saved or the certitude of salvation, and then he equates this consciousness with faith” (71). Hacker shows us how this view of faith negated the Church’s authority, the sacraments, and even the need to love God.

Brad Gregory, Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts that Continue to Shape Our World (HarperOne, 2017).

For those looking for a more general and accessible book, Brad Gregory gives us a broader narrative of how Luther’s troubled conscience exploded into the crisis that tore Christendom in two. The first section looks at Luther’s own story, tracing step by step his conflict with Church authority. The second section explains how Luther’s teaching spawned a multitude of new sects and divisions, all interpreting the Bible in their own fashion. Greggory explains: “What the early Reformation shows so clearly is that scripture and the Spirt can be interpreted and applied in radically divergent ways. Once the papacy and the Catholic Church are thrown off, there are no shared authorities to adjudicate disagreements” (137). The final section looks at how the Reformation set the tone for the development of a secular culture. Though not intending these consequences, Gregory argues that the Protestant Reformers “led indirectly to a profound diminishing of Christianity’s public influence in Western societies. The religious disagreements and conflicts that followed the Reformation set the stage for religion’s eventual separation from the rest of life” (2).

Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (Viking, 2017).

Metaxas, who wrote a monumental biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, provides us with a different perspective on Luther. His book seems poised to capture the largest audience for the anniversary this year. While I can’t agree with his view of Luther as a hero of faith, I can appreciate his presentation of a more sympathetic and thorough look at a man who has inspired many Protestant Christians. It is helpful to recognize why Luther is such an important figure for so many people. This book definitely provides many more details on the life of Luther (with over 450 pages). However, I would exercise caution, because it unfortunately also contains many gross misrepresentations of the state of the Church at the time of the Reformation.

For instance, even though Metaxas shows us many ways that Luther encountered the Bible in his early life, he still claims that the Bible and Church had no connection in the early 1500s and that “the study of the Bible per se was simply unheard of” (52). Luther himself was a theology professor and throughout the Middle Ages the Bible was the primary text for teaching theology. Brad Gregory makes clear in his book on Luther that there were even “twenty-two editions of the complete vernacular Bible . . . published in German . . . by 1518” (29). Metaxas presents a false picture of Catholics as ignorant, afraid to pray to Christ, and thinking they must earn their salvation through works. Good historical research could easily dispel these myths, such as the books of Eamon Duffy, but we see Protestants continue to project Luther’s own scruples (hating God and spending six hours in Confession, 47) onto the Church of his time.

Jerome K. Williams, True Reformers: Saints of the Catholic Reformation (Augustine Institute, 2017).

What could have Luther been if he had chosen faithful reform? The answer is a saint. There is no doubt that the Church was in need of serious reform in the 1500s. We have a number of great saints who show us that fidelity to God does not contradict fidelity to His Church. They stood against corruption and initiated deep and abiding reform. The Augustine Institute has release both a book and video series on true reformers, who boldly spoke out against abuses and led to a deeper realization of the truth found in the Bible, read in harmony with the Church. These figures—Teresa of Avila, Thomas More, Ignatius of Loyola, and Charles Borromeo, for instance—continue to inspire us to take up the task of genuine reform today.