I am very pleased that Dr. Ralph Martin has published A Church in Crisis: Pathways Forward. It is a revised and updated version of a critically important book he first published in the early 1980s. I call it a critically important book for personal and important reasons. Permit a brief story before we examine the book.
When I entered the seminary in 1984, it was a very dark time in the Church; darker even than now. At that time there was no official and agreed upon Catechism of the Catholic Church (that would come in 1994), there was no internet, and very few periodicals that presented a voice differing from the prevailing progressive views that dominated among parish priests, chanceries, Catholic colleges and seminaries. In a way it was like the wild West. Anyone could claim almost anything was Catholic and “in the spirit of Vatican II.”
Upon entering the Seminary, I was often shocked by what I was taught. Many of the priest-professors (not all) denied that Jesus really worked miracles, claimed to be God, or even knew he was God. They taught” that most of what he is recorded as saying, he never really said, most of what he was recorded as doing he never really did, he did not rise bodily from the dead, and there is little we really knew about the “Jesus of history;” he barely existed at all! Many of us were also treated to a steady diet from certain faculty of things such as why women should be ordained and that the rosary and Eucharistic Adoration were vestiges of the “pre-Vatican II Church.”
I was poorly catechized, having come through the terrible sentries of beige Catholicism, but I knew something was deeply wrong here. To say that I was dismayed, alarmed, and angered would be an understatement. I surely did not come to seminary to have my faith snatched away or have my vocation questioned by faculty who didn’t even seem to believe in the Nicene Creed or the veracity of Scripture. The few of us who questioned such things were labeled as “rigid” and considered poor candidates for the priesthood. Many were run out of the seminary by poor evaluations from the faculty. Others learned to stay silent and take counsel with the faithful and orthodox faculty we could find, or to look for other sources of truth often published by what many faculty considered then, as “renegade” publishers such as Tan Books or the Wanderer newspaper.
A Book that Saved my Vocation and faith: It was at this time that someone alerted me to a book published by Ralph Martin in 1982 called A Crisis of Truth: The attack on Faith Morality and Mission in the Catholic Church (Servant Books, Ann Arbor Michigan). This was a book that I credit with saving my vocation and, frankly, my faith! Over the years I have repeatedly thanked Dr. Ralph Martin for his voice in those days of confusion, ambiguity and outright dissent. He concisely and clearly laid out the roots and branches of dissent and error:
- The denial that there was one truth to which all were summoned.
- The undermining of the authority and infallibility of the Word of God
- The silencing of the Gospel.
- The remaking of the biblical Jesus.
- The denial that Jesus is the only way.
- Secular influence and the emergence of a merely social gospel.
- The dismissal and undermining of sexual morality
- The minimizing of the Day of Judgment and the need for repentance
- Pastoral passivity
- And many other topics as well.
It was a masterful treatment and very credible as well. Ralph Martin was a leader in the Charismatic “wing” of the Church and could hardly be labeled as part of some reactionary and reflexively conservative movement. Like a wise steward he drew from his storehouse the best of the new and the best of the old. (cf Matt 13:52). The book was a guide to all that was wrong, stated the clear and defined teaching of the Church and announced the way back through courage and action.
I joyfully heard the news last year that Ralph was going to publish an updated version of the book. Many of us have observed to our great dismay the resurgence of the confusion and open dissent that marked the 1970s through the 1990s. Dr. Martin notes this himself in the opening chapter of his revised, expanded and new book: A Church in Crisis: Pathways Forward:
…The doctrinal, moral and pastoral problems that have emerged during Francis’ pontificate are not unique to him or this time. In many ways they are a recurrence of very similar confusions that my original book back in 1982 identified. And going back even further the issues connected with the “modernist heresies” are once again with us. They are now back, sometimes in very similar appearance as they had many years ago, and sometimes in new forms but bearing with them the same underlying infidelities and rebellions.
In A Church in Crisis, Martin does not, like some, merely criticize the Pope. He praises what is good, true and beautiful in Pope Francis’ writings, statements and actions. But it is a sober reality that Pope Francis has been ambiguous on many occasions and seemingly signaled that old doctrinal and moral dissent can safely be reasserted. As Catholics, both clergy and laity, we have the right and duty to enter into a vigorous analysis of resurgent errors and to both clarify and denounce where necessary such errors. A Church in Crisis both describes the resurgent errors, sets the record straight about the true and proper Church teaching and thereby corrects erroneous notions confirms the true faith for believers of every rank. Dr. Martin does this with a great confidence in the inerrant truth of God’s word and the definitive teachings of the Church through the centuries. The book is well footnoted, scholarly but also very readable.
While the fundamental topics are similar to his 1982 book as listed above, they are freshly treated with their current manifestations described and critiqued. We are indeed a Church in crisis and too many of us are either complacent or complicit in the spread of error and confusion. Clergy are too silent but so are the laity in their homes and in their witness to the world.
Dr. Martin expands his treatment on universalism which has grown worse since the 1980s. Universalism is the error that states all or the vast majority of souls, will go to heaven; that Hell is a remote possibility. This conflicts with hundreds of verses of Scripture, and Jesus’ clear and consistent teaching that many are on the road to damnation, and “few” are on the road to salvation. This sober teaching by Jesus himself is rejected by many out of hand. Obviously, it damages our understanding of the need for on-going repentance and living a moral life, the need for sacraments, prayer and the Word of God. It turns religion into a hobby and simply promotes all to heaven whatever their beliefs, lifestyle, actions or character. Universalism makes evangelization largely unnecessary, summoning people to repentance is also unnecessary, even a form a hate. Universalism stabs urgency in the heart and makes preaching the gospel and calling others to repentance pointless and even cruel. It is clear that unless we get the doctrines of judgement and Hell right, we aren’t going to make much progress.
You need to read A Church in Crisis and get fifty of your closest friends to do the same. I am going to use the book for my Young Adult study group after Easter. Frankly most of them “get it” more than my generation and others even older. They have grown up in the wasteland created by the iconoclastic generation of my “baby-boomer” confreres.
Thanks be to God that Ralph Martin has republished and updated his book from the 1980s. I pray that many others, like I did on the awful 80s will now benefit in very dark times from these rays of truth and clarity. I do not exaggerate when I say Dr. Ralph Martin saved my vocation and faith back in the 1980s and I pray he will reach many others in this important reissue and update. It is an essential work to be read by all.