Joshua Charles is a Catholic convert, #1 New York Times bestselling author, former White House speechwriter, historian, scholar, speaker, and classical pianist. He has authored and co-authored several bestselling books, including the New York Times Bestseller The Original Argument: The Federalists’ Case for the Constitution with Glenn Beck. He recently edited the book The War of the Antichrist with the Church and Christian Civilization.
How can we put our current situation in biblical historical and theological context? Are we seeing the possible coming of the antichrist or an antichrist in our time? That’s what we’re going to talk about today on Crisis Point. Hello, I’m Eric Sammons, your host, editor-in-chief of Crisis Magazine.
Before I get started, I just want to encourage people to smash that like button and to subscribe to the channel. We really appreciate. Channel’s been growing on YouTube very well. It’s interesting because we have both podcasts and YouTube form in other places, and the podcast has been growing just normally, but the YouTube’s taken off, so I guess the young people, they’re saying, “We want YouTube.” So that’s where we are for now until we get kicked off.
Also, you can follow us on social media @CrisisMag. Okay, so our guest today is Joshua Charles. He is a Catholic convert, a number one New York Times bestselling author, a former White House speech writer, historian, scholar, speaker, and classical pianist. He is definitely the most accomplished person I’ve interviewed on this podcast.
He has authored and co-authored several bestselling books, including a New York Times bestseller, The Original Argument: The Federalist Case for the Constitution with Glenn Beck. And he recently edited the book, The War of the Antichrist, with the Church and Christian Civilization. Welcome to the program, Joshua.
Thanks, Eric. I have admired you for a while, and as I told you before, your conversion story was helpful for my own conversion, so thank you.
That’s great to hear. And honestly, I’ll tell you what, this is an interesting one because your name just started popping up on Twitter. I just started seeing things, you know how Twitter kind of sends people to you, and you’re just like, “Okay.” And I was like, This is interesting. This is interesting.”
I kept doing it, and then a couple people are like, “Oh, you got to get this guy on your podcast.” And I was like, “Okay.” And then I just started following more. I’m like, “Yeah, this is very interesting.” And so I will admit to our viewers, our listeners, that often when I interview somebody, it’s about a specific book or a specific project they’re doing. But honestly, this is more of a conversation about a lot of things, and so, I’m not 100% sure where it’s going to go. I usually do beforehand, but not on this one, which I think is kind of exciting to be honest. We’ll see where the Holy Spirit leads us.
Yeah, we’ll see.
Yeah, we’ll see. Maybe not. Maybe it’ll be a big dud too but you never know. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background before becoming Catholic? We’ll talk about your conversion in a minute, but just what’s your background?
Yeah, basically non-denominational, I didn’t feel any particular denominational loyalty. I always loved the Bible since I was a little kid, even before I could read, my mom always tells stories. I would take books and have noises come out of my mouth and finger going across the text. And she’d offer to read it to me, and I would get angry, be like, “No, leave me alone and let me read.”
And so I’ve always loved to read. And so that became very much a love of the Bible when I was very, very young, had multiple study bibles, even in middle school, had my dad and uncle of mine who I would constantly talk about the Bible with and take notes and all that.
And that continued through my whole life. Always loved apologetics, read a lot of guys like Josh McDowell, Ravi Zacharias, who it was recently revealed, had a major fall there. CS Lewis, loved CS Lewis. And I read the Bible very carefully and part of the reason I felt no particular denominational loyalty, I was at Calvinist churches, more charismatic churches.
I don’t consider myself charismatic in the sense that most people normally mean. I believe the gifts are real, but I don’t think they operate how many people claim they operate. I don’t believe much of what’s said.
But yeah, so I was at a variety of congregations, but through reading the scripture carefully, I read a lot of Martin Luther. I read a decent amount of Calvin. I loved guys like RC Sproul, the Calvinist guy. I just wasn’t convinced, oh, what’s his name? Wayne Grudem, read his systematic theology in seventh grade with a discipler, not the whole thing. And I don’t claim that I understood it all at that time. I’m not claiming to be some wunderkind, but that was the level that we were going for even early on.
I just was never quite convinced of a variety of doctrines. I went where it seemed mostly the moral issues, as long as the congregation was strong on things like marriage, abortion, I knew they were at least broadly orthodox. And so, other stuff I considered less important. And as long as they had a good community of people who seem to love each other, that was sufficient for me.
I was at churches for many years who had things in their doctrinal statements that I wasn’t rabidly opposed to, but I didn’t agree with. But yeah, it was just over the years, I would keep reading the Bible. And I can explain this further if you want, but I was eventually led to a crisis of faith, not disbelieving in Jesus himself. It was very strange, a grace, certainly.
I always had a deep personal trust in Christ himself that he would guide me through this valley, so to speak. But over a process of 10 years beginning about in college up to my conversion or right before my conversion, I was having a deepening crisis of faith, just feeling, I’m not really seeing fundamental Protestant ideas in scripture.
And at this point, I still believe the Catholic Church was quasi pagan, quasi apostate. I wasn’t like a jack chick or the chick tracts. I wasn’t a rabid anti-Catholic or anything, but I helped found a Christian fraternity. One of our guys was Catholic. I’ve since apologized to him for some of the things I said. I wasn’t yelling at him or anything, but he would try to have a conversation with me. I’d be like, “Da, da, da.” And I just didn’t want to do it.
But all these things, long before I read a church father, long before I read a single Catholic, just reading the Bible carefully, we would always say, “We’re Bible churches.” Wherever I went, we’re Bible churches. I’m like, “Well, in the Bible, the actual church in the Bible, when there’s a theological controversy, they settle it with divine authority.”
We don’t do that. We don’t even claim to do that. And at this point, I literally knew virtually nothing about the Catholic Church. So, it was things like that solo fee day faith alone wasn’t seeing it in scripture when all these people were telling me, “Well, it’s just what scripture plainly says.” I’m like, “I’m not sure it is what scripture plainly says.”
Sola scriptura made absolutely zero sense to me. In fact, the guy who nailed the final nail in the coffin for me on that was RC Sproul himself. In his lecture on the canon of scripture and how it came together, we have, he said, “The position of classical Protestantism,” I’m paraphrasing, “is that we have a fallible collection of infallible books,” which I just thought was absolutely nuts, incoherent, as a Protestant. As a Protestant.
And then finally, what did he say? I wrote about this in a blog post on my side about Souls Scriptura. He said something to effect of some huge number, “I am 99.9999999% sure that the church got it right on the can,” And of course, he’s talking about the 27 book candidate of the New Testament.
And I just remember thinking to myself, “Well, that’s,” and he said the Holy Spirit was … It was because of that the Holy Spirit was guiding the church. I’m like, “Those seem like odds you would stick with when it comes to a lot of other things.”
Anyway, I’ll let you do a follow-up if you want, but that’s the background of the conversion.
Yeah, I think what’s interesting is, I think, a lot of Creole Catholics don’t realize how loosey-goosey most Protestants are when it comes to doctrine. And what I mean by that is it’s not like I know technically, for example, the Methodist Church and the Presbyterian church and various churches, they have their statements of faith. And they have a general statement on, belief on some doctrine like what baptism does or whatever the case may be.
But within those churches, it’s really just whoever you personally picked up from pastors or writers like RC Sproul or whoever. Because as a Methodist, which what I was primarily in my last couple of years before I converted, I was doing my searching, so I was some non-denominational and things like that, but generally as Methodist.
But our Methodist church, the specific one I was in, the parish, so to speak. We didn’t call it that, of course. You had more conservative pastors. We just had beliefs that were, definitely a lot of people like I was once saved, always saved, which is actually not-
Not very Methodist.
No, it’s not very Methodist at all. But I didn’t even know that though was the funny thing. I didn’t realize that because it just was like, “Okay, that’s what the people around me were saying.”
So I was like, “Okay, I’ll go along with that.” And it wasn’t, in fact, for me, a big part of my conversion was being exposed to wider Christianity, both Protestant and Catholic, and seeing like, wait a second, I ignorantly just assumed in high school that all Christians basically believed the same thing about maybe a few minor things.
And then all of a sudden, I start meeting people who think baptism means something. I remember this one very devout Protestant who did not think baptism did anything, and he had never been baptized. And he was a practicing Protestant Christian, however whatever you want to call it. And he just insisted on not being baptized because he thought it was just a work of man didn’t need to happen.
And even though I was a Methodist who did not have some high sacramental view of baptism, I still was like, “But it says right in the Bible, you got to be baptized. Come on, dude. I mean, it’s like, how hard is it?” But it’s just that world of loosey-goosey, just whatever you happen to attach yourself to really, I mean, it bothered me.
And it sounds like you were in that same milieu where it’s like, okay, what is all this? And everybody said they got theirs from the Bible.
Even my anti baptism buddy found some passages, I can’t remember which ones, that were saying why he didn’t need to do that. So, you had this crisis faith then you’re obviously seeing some issues with what you’re doing now.
I’ll tell you what the crisis of faith was over though, because I can summarize it very quickly. I could no longer articulate the gospel. I couldn’t.
That is a crisis, especially-
I didn’t know how to articulate it. I had a deep personal trust in Jesus.
And I believe, this isn’t funny, but almost everybody I’ve known who’s gone lefty with Christianity or left entirely, there’s almost always something sexual going on. Either they want to justify something they’re doing or something that someone they love is doing. That was not the case with me. Nothing like that was happening. It was a genuine intellectual crisis of faith.
I cannot articulate the gospel. I did a decent amount of evangelizing of atheists. I was always engaged in these sorts of discussions since I was in high school. And they would ask, well, which church should I go to? We would often have uncomfortable conversations. They’d be like, “Well, what’s the basis of you saying that your church is the best one to go to besides some ego trip?”
And I realized I really didn’t have a principle to answer for them. I could give them my arguments for why I thought we interpreted scripture the best or whatnot. But there was nobody who could settle it with finality. And I’m writing an article right now that I’ll be posting soon where I described the Protestant dilemma.
And the Protestant dilemma is where you have somebody who is virtuous, educated, wise, on this side of an issue. And you have somebody who’s virtuous, educated, and wise on this side of an issue. And when you’re a young man, I’ve always taken mentorship very seriously.
When you’re a young man with even a modicum of humility, who the heck are you to decide between that? And who the heck are you? I mean, if it’s something as important as can you lose your salvation, that’s a huge question. Am I just going to do Russian roulette on this? It just makes no sense.
And so, it got to the point where one of the main crises was I couldn’t make Paul and Jesus make sense together if various Protestant doctrines were true. Now, there was a lot of what Paul said that I couldn’t make fit with other parts of Paul if what Protestantism, broadly speaking, said was true.
And then that’s when I ran into some of the whole, oh, what’s it called, new perspective on Paul, the anti-right-
The anti-right, yeah.
… stuff and going back and forth with the John MacArthurs and the James Whites and all that. And anti-right, Alister McGrath, whatnot. They all basically said, “Yeah, Luther got it wrong.” I’m being a bit simplistic, but that’s essentially what they said. So it’s like, okay, well, that’s basically the whole show folks. So, yeah.
Anyway, so that was the basic. I am single right now, and I’m single because I actually stopped dating because I knew that if I was going to be married, I would need to guide my wife and children in the faith. And I went to a Christian law school partially to meet hopefully a wonderful Christian woman and get married. But this crisis kind of came to a climax my first year of law school, and it was that bad. I just couldn’t articulate the gospel anymore.
Wow. That is a crisis. Especially for a Protestant. I assume you’re in the generic evangelical world, which is, I mean, the driving force, I mean, the reason it’s called evangelical is because the driving force is you receive Jesus, your personal Lord and Savior and all that, but you have to then share it.
I mean, that’s kind of a core part of it. That’s the thing that unites us. So if you can’t even articulate that to somebody, that is a crisis.
I had Christian fellowship. I read the Bible all the time. Again, I had a deep personal trust that Christ would guide me through it. But yeah, I didn’t feel I could intellectually defend it. And a reminder, many of my Protestant friends at the time and mentors thought I made really good points. And many of them admitted, we don’t really have a good answer for you.
Since then, I make these points and they just claim many of them. Many of my pros and friends were great. There’s 95% of them, there’s been no issues with the conversion. In fact, many of them have become Catholics since then. But with a few of them, they’ll now claim that the questions I had years before I read a Catholic, years before I read a church father that this is somehow Catholic presuppositions.
I’m like, these questions didn’t arrive with me with reading Catholics. They arrived in my mind simply by reading scripture and considering it carefully. So just-
Now, what was it that introduced you to Catholicism? For me, I got involved with the pro-life movement, and so that exposed me to Catholicism and then made that now something to consider, at least to, reject, I thought at the time, but at least to have out there. What was it that introduced you to Catholicism?
So the irony of all this is I was working full-time at the Museum of the Bible, which was a great gig. Steve Green, the CEO of Hobby Lobby, met with him, presented him an idea in, I think, it was 2015. He loved it, and he’s a great guy. I really like him. We stay in touch and wonderful man, wonderful family. They’ve done a lot of good.
But he loved my idea about the Bible, and it became the main Bible project there. It was called the Global Impact Bible is basically the idea I presented was I’m presenting this while I’m having my crisis of faith because I love the Bible and I believe it’s true. I’m just trying to figure out how the heck do I find out what is true meaning is.
And the basic idea was on every page, let’s do pictures and stories and quotes about how the Bible’s impacted music, politics, education, architecture, whatever it may be.
He loved it. So I get hired. And so, we finished that main project as you know as a publisher, there’s always a delay between when you submit the final manuscript, when it’s printed, whatever. So we’re done with my work. I wrote about two thirds of it, whatnot. It was a ton of work, but it was really great. I mean, I got to learn so much.
So that’s about May 2017. I’m going to graduate law school in June of 2017, go from Virginia back to California. I’d always seen the 38 volume set of the Church Fathers as a Bibliophile. Anytime I see a multi-volume set, I’m like, “I want it. I don’t care what’s in it. I just want it.”
And so probably an unhealthy desire there, but it led me in the right direction. So anyway, I was literally told by my boss, “Josh, we’re all focused on getting the building in DC ready.” That was where the museum was or is. “So you research whatever you want and we’ll make it into exhibits afterward.”
So, I had a few projects come up in between then, but I was basically given a free hand with a good salary, benefits, everything, working from home. And so it was this golden opportunity. And so I figured I would get these Church Fathers. I had heard about them from some psycho Catholic friends who were previously Protestant and converted.
We hadn’t had super deep discussions, but I thought they were kind of nuts. But I opened up The Father start with volume one, The Apostolic Fathers. It was either Clement or Ignatius, who are my first one. Ignatius of Antioch is now my patron saying, I call him Saint Ignatius the red pill. And it just smacked me across the face, the Catholic faith.
I was like, “This is not Protestant. This is stuff that I was told my whole life were late medieval Christians. And yet a disciple of the apostle is saying them real presence of the Eucharist, unity of the church, stick with the bishop, the tripartite offices of Bishop, priest, deacon, it’s all there.
And he’s a disciple of an apostle. And so anyway, it just went from there. I’m a reader. And so, I ended up buying, I won’t say how much money I spent, it was a lot of money. But I bought-
And you’re saying that’s okay.
I read 9 to 12 hours a day for multiple months. I still read The Fathers almost every day. These are all fathers. There are some other bookshelf. The camera’s reversed there. This whole side of the room is basically Church Fathers almost. And so I read them almost every day. And, yeah, essentially the Catholic faith was everywhere. And even on issues where they were dealing with a question that today, the Catholic … For example, baptism of the lapsed that was an issue that Saint Cyprian and Saint Pope Cornelius and Saint Pope Stephen were dealing with.
Even though Cyprian was on the wrong side of the argument, his arguments were utterly Catholic. He’s assuming baptismal regeneration. He’s assuming one church. He’s assuming that bishops are the ones that have the right to bring back into communion. So, even the terms of the debate were terms that most, if not all of us Protestants had already rejected.
And so, yeah, that’s a very short version.
So, I want to segue to something here. So this week, I actually have an article coming out at Crisis where I bring this up. And recently, another Anglican bishop announced he was becoming Catholic. And one of the things I’ve noticed that … So I became Catholic in the 1990s when there was a wave of converts, not only prominent ones, but also a lot of Protestant minister types, people like that, but also just a large number of people.
I mean, I think it was about 150,000 people were being brought into church every single year during the 1990s, at least during the height of it. And it was a lot of excitement. But I’ve noticed, at least in some parts of the Catholic world, that when somebody converts now, a high profile person or whatever, there is a certain segment of Catholics who the reaction is like, why? From Catholics I’m talking about.
Why would you convert now? Because of the crisis in the church, the problems in the church. And so, you converted obviously during the pontificate of Francis it was just like, was it four or five years ago? Something like that?
2019 is when I fully came in. I made the decision to convert in early 2018.
Okay. By the way, you have passed my five-year barrier.
Oh, good. Well, technically not for full communion but-
I know, but for being Catholic in mind.
Okay, fair enough. Yeah, I announced in February 2018, I think. Yeah.
Okay. So see, that’s five years since you made it public. So, no, it’s kind of a joke, but it’s not completely a joke. But I do think there is something to be said for somebody converting in the next day, they’re put up on a pedestal like, okay-
A hundred percent. Dr. Scott Han, just really quick Dr. Scott Han is amazing.
Working on some stuff with him. We met early on and he gave me some of the best advice. It was along the lines of what you just said, because I already had people throwing offers at me to do books. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more of a private person. I’m very good with people. So many people think I’m extroverted, but I’m actually pretty introverted. I like my time in quiet seclusion.
And so I was maybe kind of leaning against him. I was like, “Oh, it’s kind of flattering to write a book about it.” And Dr. Scott Han, he said, “My suggestion is to wait at least five years”. And I thought that was a brilliant suggestion. He was totally right. And thank you once again, Dr. Scott Han.
Yeah, we have a lot of things we can thank him for, that’s for sure. I think he’s a wise counsel. Obviously, he experienced it in his own. Because I think it blew up far beyond what he expected when he converted, I think, it was in ’86 or ’88, something like that. And the tape got out that he’s not … I don’t think he had any idea.
The tape. We all know about the tape. Yeah.
I still literally remember being in the car, listening to it with another friend of mine. But I think …
I remember when we had cars where you could listen to tapes.
Yeah, right. Exactly. Yeah, that’s right.
I do think it’s good for converts to have a little bit of time. I mean, St. Paul obviously himself. You’ve passed the barrier. So we’re good.
Okay. Okay, good.
But you have converted in a time of deep crisis. I mean, obviously, the crisis on one level goes back even before my time, before I converted. And so, I did technically. But in the 1990s, outwardly, everything was great. JP II was a rock star.
I mean, he’s on the cover of Time Magazine as the man of the year. He’s issuing in cyclicals that are stating the truths of particularly Catholic morality very clearly. It was a great time to become Catholic. Now we now know looking back there was cracks, there was problems and all that. I don’t need to get into that now.
But all those cracks and problems are out in the open today.
And so you read the fathers, the church looks great, Catholicism looks great. But then, I have to imagine, did you have an experience of looking around and saying, “Wait a second, this parish down the street doesn’t seem like they really have what Saint Ignatius of Antioch is talking about or anybody like that?” So how did you process all that?
Well, that’s a big topic. One, I can say, just to set the board, I’ve never lost my peace throughout any of this. I really haven’t. And there are aspects of my thoughts on what’s happening that I frankly keep to myself. I don’t talk about it. I don’t see much of a reason to talk about it at the present time.
Well, let me tell you a funny story. I can’t say who, I wish I could, maybe when they pass. I mean an American Catholic, everybody would know. And so, I was in a situation with this person and I was involved in giving a presentation of some sort.
And so, I met this person, a great hero of mine, and I said, “So and so, you’re a great hero of mine. It’s wonderful to meet you.” And they were thanking me for my presentation. I said, “And so-and-so, would you mind praying for me?” This was in September 2017. So I had been reading the Church Fathers for about three months, again, 9 to 12 hours a day. I said, I could see the writing on the wall, but hating and resisting it still.
But I told this person, “Would you please pray for me? I’m thinking about becoming Catholic.” And they said to me, “Oh, oh, that’s just wonderful.” And then we were shaking hands. They pulled me in and they said, “So is the Pope.” That was before I even decided to become Catholic. And so-
That’s not exactly the evangelist 101 way of bringing people into the church probably.
Yeah, no, it was hilarious. I laughed. I thought it was hilarious. And by the way, I didn’t even fully object to what he was saying because of just the facts in front of us. The facts in front of us are very disturbing. And I think we’re finally, I hope, entering a phase where those who comment about such things or willing to be more honest about it because it’s a genuine crisis.
Now, that said, I had another friend really wonderful man, he’s with TFP. We had met each other for years in political gatherings of whatnot. And he had been praying for … He was a TFP kind of got, I mean, very straight lace, wearing a suit everywhere, praying the rosary all the time, always talking to me about Mary. Even when I was a Protestant, I was just like, “Oh, this person’s great, but gosh, stop with the Mary talk.”
So anyway, he just told me for years, “I’m praying for you, our lady, she’ll bring you to the church. She will, she will.” And he would be totally convinced. And so I’m about to make this decision to become Catholic, he’s thrilled. He’s absolutely thrilled. But he said, “But you know Josh, you’re coming in at a time that is potentially the worst crisis in the history of the church. I mean, I want you to come in, but just be aware of that.”
And I was like, “No, I understand. I understand.” So, those are just a few, a yin and a yang story about when I was coming in.
Where do we even begin? Well, I’ll put it this way. One of the things that drew me to the Catholic Church was basic common sense. And I think this common sense is born out in scripture. It’s born out in history. And the common sense is that there is no such thing as a society without a visible head. None.
Whether it’s a country or a family or a company, and this is the clincher for me, even the angels in heaven, there is always a visible, well, not in the case of angels, but you know what I mean, a visible head. St. Michael. It’s like even in heaven, even beholding the beatific vision, God has established a head angel.
And so, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox ecclesiology, and by the way, I don’t even remotely equate those two. When a Protestant goes to Eastern Orthodoxy, I’m half cheering.
But no, I mean, even if Protestant and Eastern Orthodox ecclesiology would admit primacy so to speak, at all those levels, family, company, state, country, angels, the monarchy of the father, even within the Trinity, the only level at which they deny it. Well, and even with the Eastern Orthodox, parish, diocese, right?
Even metropolitan, they admit primacy at all of these levels on both heaven and in earth, but not the universal visible church on earth. And that just made zero sense to me. It still makes zero sense to me. There’s nothing like it in scripture. There’s always, virtually always, a single visible head of God’s people on earth from Adam all the way to Peter and his successors.
It’s all throughout the history of Israel. And so on, just a basic philosophical common sense level, drawn from just basic intuition and reading scripture, there’s always a visible head. And so, that’s one of the reasons why even to this day, things can get really, really bad. I think it’s possible they will.
There’s no other ecclesiology is even remotely workable. Even in theory. Even in principle. I was hearing many Eastern Orthodox would admit that our Lord did establish some sort of divine … He did divinely establish some sort of primacy in Peter.
Now, they may disagree on whether it’s supremacy and jurisdiction and all these Vatican one terms, but they will admit, yes, there’s something that Jesus established that God himself established in Peter and his successors. That’s not all Eastern Orthodox, but some of them will say that.
And so, even with the Eastern Orthodox, I was left in the conundrum of, okay, so if that’s what you admit, then you’re self-admitting that your own communion lacks a divinely established element.
And if that’s the case, now, they will argue, well, you have the divinely established element, but it’s really out of whack. It’s like, well, I can either have the church where even according to your argument, it’s out of whack, but it has all the elements. Or I can be in your communion where it’s not out of whack because it doesn’t even exist.
So that just didn’t make sense to me either. And so, anyway, I think the fathers are … There are some debatable points. I’m not going to simplistically claim there’s no ambiguities in history about the papacy. But overall, I think the evidence from the fathers was very strong as well.
Now, how do I get to today? Even as a Protestant, I didn’t think that complaints about moral behavior was a strong method of argument. And the reason why is because of free will. Even the Ravi Zacharias scandal, which I think broke before I came into the church, but after I decided to become Catholic.
He was one of my heroes. I met him, went to one of his speeches when he came around to where I was in college, thought he was a great man. He did make some decent arguments on some things. But he fell and all these Protestants were proudly claiming when he died, “Oh, he’s in heaven. He’s in the presence of Jesus.” Whatever. That all changed after the word came out, which I thought, if you really think about that, it’s an implicit acknowledgement that once they’ve always saved as untenable, that’s another discussion.
And so, I never thought moral scandal was a good argument against almost anything. When you look at communism, yeah, you can stack up the bodies and you’re like, okay, that’s an argument against communism, right? But simple old-fashioned six commandment sins, sins of greed, avarice, whatever it may be, I’ve never found them particularly convincing because people maintain free will.
And I figured, when Jesus most needed them, 11 of the 12 left, one outright abandoned him. And so, if that’s Jesus’s record, then I shouldn’t necessarily suspect that the truth will exist where there’s always perfect order. I guess, you could put it that way. An unchangeable order, but not like a perfect order, if that makes sense.
So we have this structure, and I think you put very well, the divine elements, the idea of a hierarchy, the idea of a head, a visible head, of any institution, you have to have it in a family. You should have it in a country. You need to have it in the church, like you said, the angels. So we have a papacy.
And I think everybody would, not everybody, but a lot of people would agree, at least intellectually, that moral failures do not eliminate the need for those things. There’s been plenty of kings who have been awful. There’ve been plenty of fathers who have been awful. That doesn’t mean you don’t need fathers, you don’t need kings.
And the same thing is true of popes because obviously we’ve had 256, I think, popes something like that. And surprisingly for the number that actually, I don’t think it’s that high of a percentage that have been moral-
Most have been good.
Yeah, but there definitely are some that were moral monsters who were just awful people.
And so I think a lot of people will say, “Okay, I grant that.” Now, what most people say is today is different, that while there are scandals and corruption in the Vatican, and you definitely, I think, I wish people look more carefully, immediately, a little more carefully at some of the corruption going on at the Vatican that is happening under Pope Francis.
I think ultimately though that we can classify that historically. The average Catholic can say if it’s just him appointing his buddies to be in high positions and he’s allowing terrible people to become cardinals, and there’s financial misdealings going on. Even if all that stuff is all true, we can put that in historical context.
What I think a lot of Catholics today have a hard time putting in a historical theological biblical context is a pope that seems to be working to undermine Catholic doctrine. And so, it’s not just a matter of, okay, he might be a bad person. He might not be a bad person. I’m not even saying one way or the other. I’m just saying that we can understand. But what about Pope who is, by his actions and by many of his words, seeks to, or at least is, undermining Catholic doctrine? How do you put that in a historical and theological and biblical context?
Well, I’m glad I passed your five-year barrier because now I’m fully qualified to answer this.
Absolutely. I’m been a Catholic 30 years and I’m not qualified, so you know.
Yeah, no, I’m just joking. Yeah, that is the conundrum. I don’t believe people who say, “Well, we’ve had crises before. So this is just like any other,” no, it’s not, it’s not. Now like I said, I pray for Pope Francis every day. I’ll put it this way because I don’t want to scandalize … In many ways, I feel like part of my purpose in becoming Catholic was to help Catholics not be scandalized.
And not be scandalized by simply being silent about things, but by articulating what, at this point, I can only call a typological view of the church and their history. So, maybe that’d be a good thing to go to at this point because I think there are potential answers or at least … So here’s the thing, one thing that really attracted me to the Catholic Church just from reading the Saints and the Fathers, is the reality of the church. And the reality of the church is a profound mystery. It’s Christ’s body in the world.
And so, something I’ve been saying a lot lately is many of us … Christ said, “If you follow me, you’ll suffer.” Well, most people when they hear that, they’re thinking, “Oh yeah, Satan’s enemy, Satan and his minions will attack me and I’ll suffer from the world.” That’s not the totality of it. Jesus is very clear. He lived it in his own life. But some of that suffering would come from within, brethren within. That is a fundamental part of the mystery of the church, and it always has been.
And so, St. Augustine is extremely strong in this. He’s constantly drawing on the typology of the wheat and the chaff in the same field of the sheep and the goats who will ultimately be separated at the end. The clean and the unclean animals at least later, according to the Torah in Noah’s Ark, which is the type of the church and how both of them will be separated ultimately sometime near the end by God himself.
So, he would constantly use that against heretical groups and schematics like the Donatist and the Manicheans and just Catholics who were scandalized. I mean, one of my favorite sermons are from St. Augustine was to a bunch of new converts on an Easter vigil. And he said, I’m paraphrasing, but, “I’m less afraid for you because of pagans and Jews and heretics. I’m more afraid of you because of bad Catholics.” He literally says bad Catholics.
So the phenomenon of really bad Catholics is not the same. But as you said, the phenomena of, I’ll just say, doctrinal confusion coming from Rome does, in many ways, seem new. I’m not going to comment on that directly, honestly. In many ways, it’s above my pay grade. And plus, I’m working out many of my thoughts on it with some very wise people behind the scenes and I’d rather keep it that way for now.
But what I will say is that I do think part of the typology of the church is that you do have an anti-church within. And what does that mean? So if I go to second-
Just let me interrupt you for a second, I think, this is a very important topic because I see this brought up a lot, this idea of anti-church and church. And I think there’s a lot of confusion about what that means, including by the people who are using the terminology.
And so, I would love to hear the breakdown kind of what do we mean when we say … Because immediately, when people hear anti-church and church, some people would say, “Oh, you’re a set of incontinence now.” Or You’ve left the church or whatever. But I think we need to be clear, and it’s the same … I want it to lead in a little bit language of antichrist, the antichrist, antichrist, stuff like that. Because some people say even the Pope or whoever is acting like an antichrist. Oh, now you’re no longer Catholic.
So, I’d love to hear you break down kind of biblically and theologically what you mean by anti-church in this scenario.
Sure. So, as Catholics have perennially believed, most famously articulated by St. Augustine, there’s two cities, city of God and the city of man. There’s two bodies, the body of Christ and the body of the devil. And this use of the term body of the devil is quite common in the fathers. Even St. Thomas Aquinas uses this term.
Now, what’s interesting is that the body of the devil, we’re talking on earth, just to be clear. Obviously in heaven, there’s no body of the devil in heaven. But on earth, there’s a portion of this body of the devil that is within the visible church. Now, here’s where, I think, a really important clarification needs to be made.
Theologically, I think all of us can most definitely end up belonging to this anti-church. At the end of the day, you can define the anti-church more broadly, or you can define it more specifically. I’m going to start with broadly, but then I’m going to say, when I say anti-church, I mean the more specific definition.
So the broader definition would be anybody who’s been incorporated into the church, but because of mortal sin of some kind as a dead member basically. So that can be any of us, God forbid, right? Heresy, schism, mortal sin of another, variety of moral kind, whatnot. So any of us can be that. And so, we have to have some humility here.
What I more specifically mean by anti-church, however, are those who like Judas remain within the visible communion but do not have the faith. That’s what I mean specifically. I’m forgetting who it was. There was some guy around Vatican too who said something like, was it Ronna or something? One of the bad guys that was saying, “Luther had it wrong, he left the church. We’re going to stay within this time.” So that idea.
Now scripture when it talks about antichrist, antichrist is not a purely external phenomena. The way St. John talks about antichrist in some of his smaller epistles, he applies it to those who are within the church who left. He said they were part of us, but not of us or however he phrased it. And so, the phenomenon of antichrist is internal as well as external, which corresponds with both parts of the body of the devil that if there’s a Venn diagram, it looks like a heart or whatever. But if you have the two circles that overlap is the anti-church.
So the anti-church has no kind of like sin and evil. Sin and evil don’t have their own substantive existence. Neither does the anti-church. It doesn’t exist on its own apart from these two bodies. It is literally the hidden part of the body of the devil within the visible church. That’s what it is. And so, the constant pattern of history is that the anti-church teams up with, again, the specific definition of anti-church.
The anti-church teams up with the world to persecute the church. That’s the constant pattern of history. Now, those of us who maybe are dead members and maybe part of that more general definition of the anti-church, maybe we need to go to confession or whatever, sin does dispose us to these things. So, we could still become part of that more specific anti-church that has lost the faith and yet persists in the visible communion of the church.
And the fathers talk about this all the time, by the way, St. Isidor of Seville in his Sententiae, I think it was, he gives … Is it the Sententiae or the etymologies? Etymologies, I’m sorry. He talks about the heretics. And he says that there are those who remain within the Catholic Church who remain within the visible Catholic Church who obstinately refuse some article of faith.
And so he said, “We can rightly call them heretics even though they remain within the visible communion of the church.” So this is a phenomenon that’s discussed very often by the fathers. Let me say one other comment really quick. The reason why I talked about the father so much, well, one, they brought me to the church. Two, I think in general, there’s an overreliance among Catholics on private revelation.
I’m very devoted to Our Lady of Fatima. And there’s a sense in which I think she’s private revelation, it’s not public revelation, but what she did was very public. It was meant for the world. Okay. So I don’t think a Catholic has to believe Fatima, but I kind of do. But I mean all the other stuff. What did so-and-so sister say? Unless it’s been approved by the church, there can be this industry of people being so stressed, especially post COVID and whatnot, this kind of permanent fog.
I’ve called it a permanent fog of war since COVID where nothing seems … I mean, people are even doubting whether the earth is round now. It’s ridiculous. And so, I want to be scriptural plus the fathers within the red lines that have been set by the magisterium over the last 2000 years.
On this topic, the magisterium hasn’t set a whole lot of specific red lines. There are some though. And so, that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to root it in the fathers and in scripture as much as possible.
So the dynamic is you have the anti-church in the world that are constantly persecuting the church. Where do we preeminently see this in scripture? The passion of our Lord. And the catechism does specifically talk about a passion of the church and that this passion of the church will imitate in the mystical body what our Lord experienced in his individual body.
And here’s another interesting aspect. The pagan conception of time was quite cyclical. The Christian consumption of time coming from our Jewish roots is very linear. History is headed toward a point of finality. And so, I would argue that this view of history kind of synthesizes both, that there is this cycle of history that in some sense repeats itself, but it is heading to a point of finality.
And in terms of history, that finality would be antichrist and the final persecution of the church, the passion of the church in the same sense that the passion of our Lord was the final climax, of course followed by the resurrection of his individual life.
And here’s where it gets even more interesting. So basically, for those musicians out there, I’m a classical pianist, these trends crescendo through time. They crescendo. And so they get louder for those who maybe don’t know that word. But that also means that the element within the visible church gets louder too. It gets worse. And here’s where I think it gets very interesting from scripture.
I would argue there is a eucharistic element to the anti-church. I draw a lot of this from St. John, but I think you can coincide it with books like Daniel and whatnot. So, let me back up one more time. Sorry, it’s a really deep topic, so I’m not trying to be all scatterbrained. If you want to jump in, go ahead.
So in Second Thessalonians two, Paul speaks about the coming of antichrist and he calls them, the man of lawlessness. He actually doesn’t use the word antichrist, he uses man of lawlessness. And he says that what’s holding back the coming of antichrist is the katechon. It’s a Greek term, meaning restrainer. I’m writing a book about this. So there will be a lot more details coming.
So I’m going to try and be as conclusory as possible and probably not be able to unpack everything today. But there’s a debate in the history of the church about what this katechon is. Although I would argue it gradually clarifies as we get closer, which makes sense because that’s how a lot of prophecy works.
And so, Paul says that this katechon not only holds back the coming of antichrist, but it holds back what he calls the mystery of lawlessness. So you have the man of lawlessness and the mystery of lawlessness. And so, the question then becomes, well, if antichrist is the man of lawlessness, then that which restrains him must be some sort of law fullness.
And so then the question becomes, well, what are those things which God has established to be sources of law fullness? Well, the traditional teaching of the church is the two powers, the two swords, essentially. The spiritual hierarchy coordinated with the temporal hierarchy. So, for church history, when we refer to the church, people need to understand we’re not just referring to the priesthood.
They obviously have superior authority and they have the authority to articulate doctrine and whatnot. We’re also talking about the laity. And for the history of Christendom, the laity was the temporal sword coordinated with the spiritual sword. This was not meant to be a paradise. This was never a utopian vision because it’s holding back the mystery of iniquity.
There’s many reasons I’ve arrived at this conclusion that basically the katechon is in some sense the church Christendom incorporating the Roman. It’s related to the Roman Empire as well. And so, essentially, many of the fathers say the katechon was the Roman Empire. They derive this from Daniel. And Daniel, well, I’ll explain Daniel some other time. It’s too many details to go into right now.
But then St. Thomas Aquinas comes up with this question, well, if the katechon is the Roman Empire, it ended. So, where is antichrist? And St. Thomas basically proposes that, well, he refers to sermon 82 from St. Pope Leo the Great. Where St. Pope Leo the Great on June 29th commemorating the Feast of St. Peter and Paul, which is still the same feast day today.
He talks about how Romulus and Remus founded Rome on an act of fracture side murder for a fraternal murder. But then Paul and Peter refounded Rome on an act of fraternal love through their martyrdom for each other and for our Lord. And so that this sort of refounding of Rome by the apostle’s blood took up the Roman Empire into the church itself.
And so, St. Thomas Aquinas says that the great apostasy, which is also referred to in Second Thessalonians, he said that this great apostasy will be a rebellion against the Catholic faith of the Roman church. That’s what St. Thomas Aquinas says in his commentary, I think, lecture two on second Thessalonians.
And so, that’s where I think it’s a lot of Christian … Cardinal Henry Manning has talked a lot about this. So here’s where the Eucharistic element comes in, because I think this is very, very important. And none of this is meant to say, this is what’s happening in the church. I do not presume to tell people that. I think what’s going on is a great mystery and I accept it as such.
I do think we’re going very soon, maybe we’re already there. We are going to strain the possibilities of dialectic. We’re going to have to be in pure pathos for a while. If there is a passion of the church and it mirrors our Lord’s individual passion, imagine what it would’ve been like on holy Saturday for St. John to make the case that Jesus Christ was the Messiah.
That may be the situation we’re going to be in typologically. And so, I do think there are some people who think that by constantly talking and rationalizing and whatever, that we can arrive at some sort of solution. I don’t agree with that. I think it should be part of it. And it’s part of, we’re human, we’re rational animals. So the rational is extremely important.
But if the church does in fact have a passion, I believe it will be as mysterious and confusing by earthly eyes as the passion of our Lord. And so, the Eucharistic element, sorry, I keep saying this for the third and final time, the Eucharistic element is very interesting.
So we know that the only people who stayed with our Lord were St. John and our lady and a few women, right? So, I’ll stick with St. John and our ladies since they’re obviously the preeminent figures there. St. John in John six, when our Lord speaks the most forcefully about the real presence, his real presence in the Eucharist. That’s the first time John identifies Judas as the betrayer.
Judas was actually among those in heart who left Jesus when he articulated this teaching, but he didn’t leave. He stayed within. Okay? And so, I think, it’s very significant. The Gospel of John is the most mystery laden version of the gospel. It’s very different from the synoptic gospels, right? That’s one of the great mysteries. So then we get to John’s account of the Last Supper.
Well, what happens there? Well, Jesus says, “One of you will betray me.” And then John asks him privately, “Who will it be Lord?” And Jesus says to him privately, “Him to whom I give this morsel,” and many of the fathers say that this morsel was in fact the Eucharist. Okay. Then what happens when our Lord gives the morsel, again, only having communicated it to John, gives this morsel to Judas.
Satan goes into him, very significant. So, when you compare with what St. Paul says, “He doesn’t discern the body and blood brings damnation to himself.” I mean, this is very real. We’re seeing the Eucharistic element of the anti-church, the mystery of inequity at work in our Lord’s passion. He identifies his betrayer with the Eucharist and then the betrayer is possessed by Satan, perfectly possessed probably.
And then Jesus says, “Go and do what you’re going to do and do it quickly.” Okay. So, the way I think this is actually profoundly Eucharistic is the fathers are unanimous that one of the things antichrist will do is bring the public’s sacrifice of the mass to an end. And indeed, all types of antichrist have in one way or another, tried to do that. Nero did it. Emperor Domitian or Domitian did it. Julian the apostate did it.
I was going to say the Protestants did it. Not against individual Protestants, but Protestantism. And so, St. Robert Bellman talks about this in his book on antichrist. So, what’s interesting to me is that God is not arbitrary, right? His intellect is above his will. I mean, of course, they’re one and the same, but we’re not volunteers. The intellect is superior to the will.
So, why would God allow this? Well, there are some sort of reason why in the economy of God, it’d be perfectly just in those final three and a half years for God to bring the representation of the sacrifice of his own son, the public representation of the sacrifice of his own son to an end. And I could be wrong. My personal opinion is it will be related to the sorts of catastrophic abuses that we’ve seen the last 60 years.
That’s not me saying that antichrist is around the corner. I do have suspicions, frankly. But that’s not me saying that. I’m saying that some sort of, because we say Eucharistic abuses, what do we mean? What does that theologically mean? It means the Lord is being crucified again in his own house, which is exactly what happened in his individual passion.
So, I believe eucharistically, something like that will happen precedent to antichrist.
This is a fascinating conversation I’m having with Joshua Charles. And so I decided to break it up into two different parts. There’s a lot to digest here and I just felt like by having it in two parts, you can do this part one, listen to it, think about it. And then next week, we’re going to go ahead and publish part two of it where we get more in depth into the topics that we’ve been talking about today.
So I hope you enjoy this episode. Like I said, part two will be coming out next week. Until next time, everybody, God love you.