The Law of Incarnation and Protestantism

It is often charged that Catholicism represents and is united by an imposing worldwide organization with the Pope wielding power a la a corporate mogul, while Protestantism is unified as the spiritual body of the communion of saints, headed by Christ. But this understanding is simply erroneous. The characteristically Protestant view is a retreat from the visible reality into the invisible and “purer and truer.” This is the classical failure of Protestantism to understand the Incarnation completely, whereby God takes on FLESH, i.e., visible, material human reality.

Thus the Law of the Incarnation rules the reality of the Church, extending the Incarnation into the visible body of the Church. Spirit, Holy Spirit, enters into a VISIBLE group of definite disciples gathered around Mary and the Twelve, and Peter’s preaching brings in several thousands of Jews, who are baptized, confirmed and celebrate the Eucharist (breaking of Bread), listen to the instruction of the Twelve, have formal prayer liturgy like Good Jews though Christianized, and share a common life of charity. None of this is purely invisible, and as visible it is an organic Communion of various elements all coordinated to one another, as laity to clergy and vice-versa.

Catholicism not only believes but practices spiritual unity in the visible Communion of the Church. Protestantism tries to have such a spiritual unity without that visible communion as the necessary place where it is incarnated. Protestantism is content to have it introvertedly in the interior consciousness to such a degree that the visible is only the inferior externalization of what’s already in the personal consciousness. This is why we are not one: Because the Traditional Catholic-Orthodox understanding of the Incarnation of Spirit into visible matter is set aside by Protestantism as not really that important. This means at root that Christ’s Incarnation is really understood primarily in utilitarian terms: e.g., Mary was needed for the Incarnation and that’s pretty much all, so she can be effectively discarded after she plays her temporary useful function. Likewise, Christ’s death on the Cross is the means of reconciliation and is over; it is not prolonged in the Church as the Mystery of the Eucharist which makes it available visibly to the visible body of the Church. Invisible faith in that once-for-all (as meaning only once in time) event is all that is needed.

The retreat of fundamentalist or most evangelical Protestantism into the invisible as into the “purer” is a semi-Gnostic devaluing of matter. In the Protestant mentality it seems to be related to the introverted psychology of Northern peoples. As such it is a corruption of Christianity by an unbalanced humanity, which the Reformers certainly can be noted to have had. The vicious hatred of images by Calvinists not only destroyed some of the most precious art of Europe, but created a severity in human living which moderns conveniently ignore, in which the utilitarian overrides much of the deeper values in human life.

Work and thrift remove the possibility of contemplation and humanism. The reaction to this severity is, of course, inevitable laxity of morals. This swing between two extremes was operative in Luther’s life par excellence. But it lingers in the understanding of Protestant culture in America in the rat race of secular striving that sees both parents and students working more and missing more of human life. This is but the secularized version of the Protestant ethic, in which process and the means become too important. 

It is encouraging when it is seen that some Protestants do accept Catholic teachings like holiness and unity. But these are seen by them as essentially only visible realities of the individual consciousness against the visible manifestation of them as not really that important. Catholicism living the Incarnation’s Law of it be extended to her visible communion understands that those spiritual realities are presented by means of visible union, visible succession, visible sacraments, visible holiness, visible faith in doctrine. It is the assumption that Protestants make of either/or favoring the invisible, that is the corruption of the faith, and that has them lose those realities to a very great extent. 

The Law of the Incarnation which is operative since Pentecost in the Church has the spiritual realities objectively (not because one sincerely believes, i.e., subjectively) present only in the material visible vessels, just like the humanity of Christ (John 1:1,14; 1 John 1:1-4). Thus it would be bringing error, confusion, and an absence of objective supernatural realities to bypass this difference and pretend there was sufficient unity to speak with one voice or act with the same purpose, for while Protestantism would bring people to believe in Christ it would not be able to bring them to the essential visible means of sanctity in which and by which we are actually present.

Protestantism must overcome this erroneous either/or approach, favoring the invisible as sufficient, and regain the full understanding of the Incarnation as extended in the visible Church, and both-and, not an either/or reality.

by Padro