The modern medieval Church

No, this blog post will not be about history, and not even about anything medieval very much, apart from using that word. I want to take about the word ‘medieval’ as some sort of accusation against the Church. Is she really some sort of old-fashioned institution when she asserts her own teachings, and if so, is that a bad thing?

Bishop Jan LiesenReason for this post is some action undertaken by Bishop Jan Liesen of Breda, who forbade an address about near-death experiences by a speaker who is known to dabble in esoteric things that are rather at odds with Catholic teachings and faith. This address would have been no exception, and it was to take place in a church, so the bishop certainly had a say about the matter.

Opponents of the decision disagree with the timing of the decision (which sounds reasonable, as it was rather last-minute, and finding a different location to host 300 guests turned out to be problematic on short notice), but some then go on to attack the decision itself. It is a step back, they say, and purely medieval.

What Bishop Liesen did here, and what other priests and bishops have done in the past, is one of their main duties: the protection of the faith and shepherding the flock entrusted to them. They are tasked with an adherence to the treasure that the Church guards: the entire body of the faith that came to her from Christ. The bishops can and should do so pro-actively, by promoting the Christian life of their faithful, but also by responding to those things that would endanger that life.

Bishop Liesen’s action is not so much about being authoritative, about displaying power and forbidding people to do things. Rather, he acts against something that would, at the very least, sow confusion. After all, if some event takes place in a church, it is logical to assume that it must therefore be something that the Church wants to support, and that agrees with what she teaches. And in this case, and so many others, the opposite is true.

Is that medieval? Perhaps it is, if you adhere to an idea about the Middle Ages that is mostly about authority. Authority is not a bad thing. It is what our society is based, and our Church no less. In order to shepherd and teach there must be authority.

Truth is unattainable by consensus. And that is akin to heresy in the ears of many modern people. It is old-fashioned to correct, medieval to say no to something. So, if that’s true, Church: by all means, be old-fashioned, be medieval. Let the authority of Christ shine through, and may his followers be open to His transforming grace. That is truly looking forward, and therefore not old-fashioned at all.

Photo credit: Ramon Mangold


7 thoughts on “The modern medieval Church”

  1. What I find interesting here, or rather what I’m curious about in this case is what the lecture/speech/address would have been about and what it’s message would have been. If this person gave ‘evidence’ (the quotation marks I use because I use the term rather broadly here, as it might not necessarily be evidence in a narrow empirical, academic sense; I do not intend to judge here) of a life after death through his/her description of near-death experience, then surely that might strengthen the faith of many a church-goer (be they Catholic or Protestant)? Or is there an aspect to this – one that interferes with one or other Catholic dogma or pan-Christian notion perhaps – that I’m overlooking? Food for thought, Id say…

  2. During most of the Middle Ages Europe was profoundly Christian, which nowadays it is not. That’s why I am inclined to take ‘medieval’ as a compliment. (By the way, Medieval is also the name of a beautiful font.)

  3. Hi Cees, that was my initial thought as well except I know a bit more about the context and content which make me understand the decision of the bishop better.
    My thought went a bit like this; muslims or hindu’s could give a nice talk about the value of prayer and silence during such a meeting… they adhere to a worldview which in important respects is at first sight at odds with Christianity. But that wouldn’t be the topic, the topic would be prayer and silence and how it benefits their spiritual life and how it could relate to christian prayer and silence. Nostra Aetate says about other doctrines: “She [the Church] has a high regard for the manner oif life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men.”

    So in The Netherlands in the 90’s we had a brief spat between catholicism vs new age influenced by imo evangelical crusades against the occult. I never found the arguments from Catholic representatives very strong, appropriate or constructive back then.

    The discussion about Hans Stolp dates back to that time, he claims he has experience with angels, near death experiences and believes in reincarnation. He further puts esoteric christianity in conflict exoteric christianity. Now if I were bishop or priest with the responsibilty of guiding the souls, I’d note these problematic views in the context of catholicism and would definitely act on it; which could be a simple telephone call to Hans Stolp to explain and draw some lines.
    I see two main problems: being an adherent to esoteric christianity (whatever that means) in what way are you opposed to catholicism as exoteric? Is a lively inner prayer life or communication with Christ not also ‘esoteric’ by it’s definition? Would such a simplistic view be promoted and cause doubt among the parishers about their own faith?
    In what way would reincarnation be promoted, how does this relate to Christ’s salvation (vs we save ourselves through progressing on the spiritual evolutionary path through multiple lives) and would this cause confusion with the parishenors.
    In what way could meeting relatives in NDE’s be reconciled with catholic doctrine?

    If Hans Stolp would only leave it at the NDE’s and perhaps his knowledge of and experience with angels that could help in a way with the grieving process and strengthening our own faith, just like listening to a pandit or imam giving an account on prayer and silence would. I was listening to the NDE story of Eben Alexander during the weekend and was inspired by the sincerity and beauty of his account like I am with Stolp’s. As a christian I just don’t care much for speculation on reincarnation, Christ as teacher, prophet or energy etc so I just ignore that part.
    I think the bishop would like te err on the side of caution here and doesn’t want any chance of non-christian ideas promulgated under his responsibility. Perhaps it’s a missed opportunity as an orthodox and spiritually sensitive catholic priest or lay person could dialogue with him in such a way that the audience gets inspired, gets some views about the afterlife and about the differences. You cannot prevent people from taking comfort in new age literature, might as well do it under the aegis of the church witch extra information and catholic thought on the topic so people can make up their own minds. Now it can easily be viewed as though the hardline exoteric bishop wants to supress sweet esoteric christianity once again… while I know this is not the case at all.

  4. Good for the bishop! It has to be remembered that Satan and his “angels” can appear to men and lead them astray. In the cases of “after life” experiences one hears much about beautiful light, peace and a deep sense of well being etc. This can easily lead to thinking that everybody will be just fine and nothing is required of them. Such as; Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, adherence to the teaching of His Church, regular use of all the sacraments. We have to work hard for our salvation and it can be, and often is, a real battle each day. Hell exists. Our Lord is very clear about that reality and many souls are destined for it. For faithful Christians I think a certain time of purification in Purgatory is the first stop on the road to Heaven. So all the talk about these “after life” experiences have to be taken with, I would say, 100 percent skepticism and should be ignored. Scripture and Tradition teach us all we need to know.
    Pax Christi!

  5. Francis, thank you for your elaborate, well-weighed response to my question. Your view on my suggestion certainly makes a lot of sense; I guess his Excellency was aware that sometimes the devil is in the details so to speak…

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