Was MacDonald Anti-Catholic?
by Sharon (Welsh) Edel
Being a life-long Catholic with some background in Catholic theology as well, along with being a very long time fan of George MacDonald, I was at first dismayed some years ago to discover what I thought to be some anti-Catholic remarks. I do not claim to be an expert in Catholic theology or an expert on George MacDonald. I do claim to ardently follow both and to have been influenced for the best, I hope, by both.
Below are two quotes from Unspoken Sermons (Kindle version) that stood out for me. I understand that he may have had more to say regarding beliefs attributed to Catholics. I offer these as examples.
Truth is indeed too good for men to believe; they must dilute it before they can take it; they must dilute it before they dare give it. They must make it less true before they can believe it enough to get any good of it. Unable to believe in the love of the Lord Jesus Christ, they invented a mediator in his mother, and so were able to approach a little where else they had stood away. (Location 5285 on Kindle)
But God is utterly just, and nowise resembles a legal-minded Roman emperor, or a bad pope formulating the doctrine of vicarious sacrifice. (Location 5913 on the Kindle)
I wish to address briefly three areas which I find referenced in the above quotes: Catholic devotion to Mary, Catholic understanding of the Pope, and Catholic theology in general. Before offering what I am sure will be inadequate, but not erroneous thoughts, I would like to offer a suggestion. I have found that non-Catholics (and even some Catholics!) when faced with a question or doubt about Catholic Church teaching, will go to a specifically anti-Catholic source for answers! These sources feed them misinformation varying from almost comic to down-right hateful. May I suggest that you question a very well-informed Catholic, and/or even better yet, seek an answer from the official Catechism of the Catholic Church. This is available on line as well as in book form. http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church/index.cfmYou may not agree with what is taught; but a careful reading should give you a far better understanding than you would otherwise have.
“Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” (Luke 1:28). This is how the angel greets Mary whose “yes” to God will allow the Holy Spirit to cause her to conceive, making her the mother of Jesus who is the Son of God. This is the woman who is entrusted by God to nurse, love, and raise the Son of God. This is the woman who will follow and support him, who will make the answered request for help at the wedding of Cana , who will stand beneath the cross in unspeakable sorrow, who will be present in the upper room for the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and who will be loved and cherished by the early church and by Christians for all time. As a mother with sons whom I love without measure, I can only meditate in awe of this woman, full of grace, Mother of God. She is the first disciple, the first to believe, the first to obey. Official Catholic teaching never, ever puts her before or above God. Understanding properly her place and role, one can hardly fail to give her great respect and hold her up as a role model for all disciples. Perhaps the enthusiasm and love for her causes some to misunderstand devotion to Mary; but official teaching and correct understanding never does.
Many people think that Catholics believe that the pope is infallible, that he can say or do no wrong. This is not correct. No one knows more than knowledgeable Catholics about the “bad popes” in history. Yet even the “bad popes” never taught officially anything that is out of line with Christian teaching. Unfortunately, some popes were terrible witnesses; but they did not lay down official teaching that was in error. Without getting into a detailed discussion, infallibility refers to official church teaching and to papal statements which are officially defined to be infallible, which has only happened twice in the history of the church, both in reference to Mary.
Finally in reference to vicarious sacrifice and theology in general, it should be noted first that the followers of Jesus struggle to understand and put into words what God has revealed and what Jesus accomplished on the Cross. Theologians use, along with Scripture, philosophy and logic to try to make sense of this in a way that allows the Church to preserve and teach the Christian Faith. Some theologians don’t get it right. Like scientists, they offer theories; unlike scientists, they cannot offer scientific proof. But, keep in mind that theories are not “Official Teaching.” Theologians argue and debate, research, pray and struggle to refine ideas. People often mistake theories with what is officially taught. It is also true that even what we do know in part can be refined as time goes by and the Holy Spirit leads us into deeper truth.
Was MacDonald anti-Catholic? He was not versed in all aspects of Catholic theology, but that does not thereby make him “anti-Catholic.” In fact, in his teachings of the Love of the Father, in the necessity of obedience to the Son, in his hope for salvation for all, in his explanations of Justice and Mercy and Suffering, I have found nothing that would be out of line with what is taught in Catholicism. MacDonald has helped to increase my own Catholic-Christian Faith.
In closing, I would suggest that MacDonald is Pro-Truth and is anti-anything that would lead us away from truth. May I further simply suggest that we continually seek the Truth of our sonship under the Father, our brotherhood in Christ and our Unity in the Holy Spirit.
Sharon (Welsh) Edel