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Factions Within the Church

By John Michael Talbot

I am most aware of the various factions and parties within the Church today. Most of them make me a bit nervous. I prefer to simply be an obedient son of the Church, following the teachings of my bishop and the Bishop of Rome, Pope John Paul II. Perhaps some of my testimony would help any doubters to understand.

I first became a Roman Catholic because of 1) my love for scripture and desire for unity among the churches led me to the authority of scripture, tradition, and magisterium working together through apostolic succession in our bishops and the Peterine ministry in the Bishop of Rome; 2) the contemplative tradition evidenced not exclusively, but most strongly within Roman Catholicism, and; 3) the Church's strong support for most radical gospel communal expressions in and from the monastic/Franciscan/consecrated tradition.

When I became Catholic it was the most liberal theology that concerned me most. I thought, why not become a liberal Protestant if that is what you want? It is not illegal in our culture, nor is it looked down upon. But I had already been there, new its "sign," and found it wanting.

But now it is the far right wing reaction that concerns me most. It is a reactionary return to the legalities and externals of the Church of the modern pre Vatican II past (many of these things are themselves not really that ancient by Church history standards, but only go back some 400 years), without understanding the deeper spirit of the Church universal that drew me and many others into the Church.

This is the Church of the early fathers, the monastic and mendicant traditions, and the mystics and saints. Ironically, even as the early fathers were not afraid to appropriately use the language of Greek philosophy to bring the gospel to the primarily Greek western world, so does the Church appropriately guide us through the proper use of ecumenism and interfaith cooperation and practice. When the roots are really deep, the tree can reach up and out much further without the danger of toppling. It is only the more shallow rooted trees that must be constantly afraid.

The Church teaches us to be radical, but not fanatical (which is listed as a sin in the Didache, or teaching of the Twelve Apostles). A radical is rooted like a "radish," while a fanatic merely mimics the externals of genuine radicalism without really understanding its meaning or spirit.

We are rooted deeply in gospel fundamentals given us by Jesus and the Apostles, but we are not to be fundamentalists. One responds to the problems of the world and the Church with great love, patience, and steady perseverance. The other reacts with a sort of short-circuiting of both thought and emotions through an almost compulsive and paranoid preoccupation with "orthodoxy." It "misses the forest for the trees" so to speak. Genuine orthodoxy is meant to guide us to and deeper in God, not to be a god. One is healthy and life giving, the other strangles the spiritual life out of even orthodox belief and practice. Such an approach becomes a sort of inverted idolatry, making a god out of the otherwise good things of God.

Often the fundamentalist initially appears more "orthodox" because of the external conservatism of their language. But in the long run this proves to deviate from the real apostolic teaching of the Church due to its emotional preoccupation with external practice and mere ideas and words, both of which are meant to guide us to the living Incarnate Word, who gives us doctrine that, according to the excellent summaries of apostolic tradition by John Henry Newman, develops through every age.

The Brothers and Sisters of Charity and myself stand in union with Christ, the Church, and the bishops in union with the Bishop of Rome. The Church makes some mistakes at times, but God keeps us from the "gates of hell" in the long run. As my spiritual father used to teach me: The Church walks on the right foot, then the left, but she still goes in a straight line when seem from a bigger perspective. We need both the left and the right feet, but they need to work together with great humility and love for the other. When this is lacking we get stuck only on one or the other of our feet, and we begin to hop instead of walk with the full grace of God in Jesus. Though every era has its own set of problems, scandals, and clarifications, I have no doubt that the Church is still going in a straight line today.

The Brothers & Sisters of Charity is a Catholic based community made up of an integrated monastic expression of celibate brothers, celibate sisters, families and singles located at Little Portion Hermitage in Berryville, Arkansas, and a domestic expression of those world-wide in their own homes. This unique religious community is the only community of its type in the United States to be granted canonical status in the Catholic Church.

To learn more about John Michael Talbot and the Brothers and Sisters of Charity visit or


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