The Curse of Broadmindedness
(from Fulton J. Sheen: Moods and Truths-written in 1932)
“The Catholic Church intolerant.” That simple thought, like a yellow-fever sign, is supposed to be the one solid reason which should frighten away any one who might be contemplating knocking at the portals of the Church for entrance, or for a crumb of the Bread of Life. When proof for this statement is asked, it is retorted that the Church is intolerant because of its self-complacency and smug satisfaction as the unique interpreter of the thoughts of Christ. Its narrow-mindedness is supposed to be revealed in its unwillingness to cooperate effectively with other Christian bodies that are working for the union of churches. Within the last ten years, two great world conferences on religion have been held, in which every great religion except the Catholic participated. The Catholic Church was invited to attend and discuss the two important subjects of doctrine and ministry, but she refused the invitation.
That is not all. Even in our own country she has refused to lend a helping hand in the federating of those churches which decided it was better to throw dogmatic differences into the background, in order to serve better the religious needs of America. The other churches would give her a royal welcome, but she will not come. She will not cooperate! She will not conform! And she will not conform because she is too narrow-minded and intolerant! Christ would not have acted that way!
Such is, practically every one will admit, a fair statement of the attitude the modern world bears to the Church. The charge of intolerance is not new. It was once directed against Our Blessed Lord Himself.
Immediately after His betrayal, Our Blessed Lord was summoned before a religious body for the first Church Conference of Christian times, held not in the city of Lausanne or Stockholm, but in the city of Jerusalem. The meeting was presided over by one Annas, the primate and head of one of the most aggressive families of the patriarchate, a man wise with the deluding wisdom of three score and ten years, in a country in which age and wisdom were synonymous. Five of his sons in succession wore the sacred ephod of blue and purple and scarlet, the symbols of family power. As head of his own house, Annas had charge of family revenues, and from non-biblical sources we learn that part of the family fortune was invested in trades connected with the Temple. The stalls for the sale of bird and beast and material for sacrifice were known as the booths of the sons of Annas. One expects a high tone when a priest goes into business; but Annas was a Sadducee, and since he did not believe in a future life, he made the most of life while he had it. There was always one incident he remembered about his Temple business, and that was the day Our Lord flung his tables down its front steps as if they were lumber, and with cords banished the money-handlers from the Temple like rubbish before the wind.
That incident flashed before his mind now, when he saw standing before him the Woodworker of Nazareth. The eyes of Jesus and Annas met, and the first world conference on religion opened. Annas, ironically feigning surprise at the sight of the prisoner whom multitudes followed the week before, opened the meeting by asking Jesus to make plain two important religious matters, the two that were discussed later on in Lausanne and Geneva and Stockholm, namely, the question of His doctrine and the question of His ministry. Our Lord was asked by a religious man, a religious leader, and a religious authority, representative of the Common faith of a nation, to enter into discussion, to sit down to a conference on the all-important questions of religion-ministry and discipline-and He refused! And the world’s first Church Conference was a failure.
He refused in words which left no doubt in the mind of Annas that the doctrine which He preached was the one which He would now uphold in religious conference, namely, His Divinity. With words, cut like the facets of a diamond, and sentences, as uncompromising as a two-edged sword, He answered Annas : “I have spoken openly to the world . . . and in secret spoke I nothing. Why asketh thou Me? Ask them that have heard Me, what I spoke unto them: behold, these know the things which I said.”