David Mills, speaking for himself

David Mills, a former Anglo-Catholic, who crossed the Tiber 17 years ago has a piece up at Crux entitled Newcomers to the Church Should Listen More and Speak Less that continues what many perceive as the “convert bashing” that began with this piece by Austen Ivereigh, for which he has apologized.

The short versions of the two posts is: “converts” ought to shut up.   Why? because somehow cradle Catholics have a secret decoder ring to The Catholic Thing that newcomers lack and therefore any criticisms of the current state of play in the Church come from their “baggage” carried from their previous church.  I dunno.  When surveys show most cradle Catholics don’t even believe in Real Presence, disregard teachings on contraception, and hold many other beliefs contrary to official Church teaching, I wonder what cradle Catholics he’s referring to that seem to have grasped the full Truth of being a Catholic.

Well, David Mills speaks for himself, and it may have taken him a while to grasp from the inside such things as Mary as Mother, but does he presume all the critics described by Ivereigh  haven’t deepened their conversion as much as he has or even deeper than he has? Ivereigh wrote in Pope Francis and the Convert Problem:

Now it is quite possible that elegant commentators such as Ross Douthat and  Matthew’s boss Rusty Reno (both former Episcopalians), or, at the rougher end, writers such as Carl Orlson (ex-Protestant fundamentalist) and John Henry Westen (ex-atheist), or indeed ex-Anglicans in my own patch such as Daniel Hitchens of the Catholic Herald and Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register in Rome, are all correct in their readings.

But it is a lot more likely that their baggage has distorted their hermeneutic, and they are suffering from convert neurosis.


Do none of those listed “get it” the way he does?  Are Massimo Faggioli and Austen Ivereigh as examples of cradle Catholics who do.  What about Robert Royal?  Cardinal Burke, to name a prominent American cradle Catholic?

But of the real Catholic mind or imagination – the Catholic paradigm, the way Catholics see the world – he knows little. The new Catholic must work for many years to get that, and never will get it fully.

Most converts, as I wrote in The New Oxford Review, will never think and feel exactly as do cradle Catholics. They do by instinct what we will always do by analysis followed by choice.

For a long time, and perhaps a very long time, the convert will see the Catholic Thing as you see a garden through a bay window, not as you see it when you’re standing amidst the flowers. He sees its design and beauty, but doesn’t feel the sun or smell the flowers or enjoy walking barefoot on the grass. Nor does he know what it is like to get caught in the rain or stung by a bee, or to spend hours weeding. He has to spend many years outside to know what life in the garden is really like.

Then, this.


The second example relates more closely to Faggioli’s and Ivereigh’s concerns. Converts tend not to have a sense of the Church as a living body moving through history. Our instinctive ecclesiology is more static, more a matter of settled rules to be obeyed than a life to be lived.

Converts may believe in the development of doctrine, and in fact include it as one of their reasons for converting. I did, but for a long time I didn’t see how it works.

Converts don’t trust it, because the process includes a lot of confusion and error. It requires something more like mobs arguing in bars and battling in the street than the genteel discussion around the table in an oak-paneled room they imagine.

It includes a pope who might speak ambiguously and challenge the Church to explain and defend practices thought settled in their present form, while being the Holy Father to whom submission is due.

We will tend to react to any questioning of the boundaries and feel the hard cases dangerously risky. We hold more doctrines to be settled than are actually settled, and dislike open questions.

There is a great division among Catholic theologians about how this living Body moves through history—whether the truths of Revelation transcend history and are true for all times and all cultures (though of course may need to be explained in new or fresh ways) or whether history and some kind of Hegelian dialectic makes Revelation a process and where history or experience are right up there with Scripture and Tradition.  And, in fact, trump Scripture and Tradition.

Tracey Rowland’s book Catholic Theology was helpful for me to understand these various trends.




6 thoughts on “David Mills, speaking for himself

  1. I really don’t know where to begin when I see a rag like this.

    >> 1. The plain reality is people who choose a church through a conscious decision process have much more commitment to it than those who belong by the accident of growing up in it and never considering whether to leave or to stay. Additionally, the formation provided to those received into full communion from other Christian bodies or who convert from other faiths typically is much more rigorous than that provided in the lax catechetical programs for so-called “cradle Catholics” that predominate in far too many of our parishes.

    >> 2. The disconnect between the Tridentine “Catholicism” of many “Traditionalists” and the ecclesiology articulated by the Second Vatican Council, most notably in the dogmatic constitutions Lumen gentium on the Church and Dei verbum on divine revelation is huge. Those who come from outside typically have a much better grasp of the latter, and on the role of the laity in the liturgy and in the mission and ministry of the Church which flows therefrom.

    I’m officially a “cradle Catholic,” but give me a parish full of converts received from other faiths and individuals received into full communion from other Christian denominations over a parish full of “cradle Catholics” any time!



    • “the Tridentine ‘Catholicism’ of many ‘Traditionalists'” — First of all, why the tone of utter contempt, even the underlying implication that the scare-quoted “Traditionalists” are not even real Catholics? That’s a little presumptuous, don’t you think? There are many, converts and cradles alike, who of course accept Vatican II but also interpret it in light of all of foregoing Tradition, including that of the Ecumenical Council of Trent. Is that a sin now?

      I hate to disappoint, Norm, but not everyone buys into the Bologna School’s “hermeneutic of rupture” narrative, which is almost like a parody of the absurd protestant trope that the “real Christian church” existed scattered in hiding until the heroic reformers came along in the 16th century.

      Apparently, we are now to believe that Catholic ecclesiology (sorry, “Catholic” ecclesiology, because if it’s pre-Vatican II, it’s apparently not really Catholic) did not really exist until it popped out of Yves Congar’s brilliant head, and all the unwashed, illiterate layfolk didn’t know what liturgy was or how to interact with it before ++Bugnini finally came along and graciously changed things around for them. In fact, I may be wrong but it seems to me, Norm, that fewer and fewer Catholics, especially among the rising generations, buy this whole “Vatican II as New Pentecost/Dawning of the Age of Aquarius” line.

      Note: None of the foregoing means that I “don’t accept” LG, DV, or any other documents of Vatican II. Of course I do. But to interpret one Ecumenical Council without the context of everything else that came before, or worse yet, to read it in a hermeneutic of historical skepticism/revisionism/rupture that implies that the Faith or the Church’s identity and knowledge of herself was somehow completely benighted and/or corrupted before said Council came along, is very dangerous in my opinion. As Dr. Jeff Mirus put it, “any new development in Catholic teaching, Catholic devotion, Catholic discipline, and Catholic worship must be understood as a development which corroborates and confirms what has come before, even as it proposes a new and deeper insight, a more precise formulation, or an important emphasis that has either been overlooked or has special relevance to our current situation” (emphasis mine). If agreeing with that statement puts one’s Catholicism into scare quotes for you, I’m not sure what else to say.


      • I’m not persuaded that “contempt” is a fair term, but the plain reality is that you cannot be more Catholic than the pope. When asked whether the Second Vatican Council defined new dogma in its dogmatic constitutions, then-Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, who served as a theological expert (peritus) at the council, responded, “No, there’s nothing new, but what was implicit is now explicit. In other words, the council stated explicitly for the first time points of doctrine that could be deduced from what was already established.

        And, in any case, the job of interpreting tradition authentically rests with the magisterium — which resides, most fundamentally, in the bishops of the church assembled in ecumenical council. Therefore, every dogmatic constitution promulgated by an ecumenical council is intrinsically infallible by its very nature and thus is not subject even to papal revision, so that any contrary constitutes heresy. For this reason, the Vatican provided every participant in the Second Vatican Council with a complete copy of the documents promulgated by every previous ecumenical council — and it’s no surprise that the Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes large segments of the dogmatic constitution Lumen gentium verbatim to explain the church’s doctrinal understanding of herself. Of course, this does not exclude the possibility of further clarification of details that remain ambiguous, either by the pope speaking ex cathedra or by a subsequent ecumenical council.

        The bottom line here is that so-called “Traditionalists” who reject the dogmatic constitution Lumen gentium are heretics, even if they still identify themselves as members of the Catholic Church. Of course, the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) is also in a state of formal schism that canonically encompasses all laity who “adhere to” them. Nevertheless, adherence to their heresies remains the primary obstacle to their reconciliation.

        Of course, this is not to say that those on the “liberal” extreme got it right. So-called “Liberation Theology” and “Feminist Theology” are among the more notorious heresies that emerged from the liberal extreme. However, I’m not aware of any instances in which proponents of such heresies have ended up in formal schisms.

        The experience of those who are now young adults is a mixed bag.

        >> Some have grown up in parishes where the ordinary form of the mass is celebrated very well. In most cases, they are not seeking anything more.

        >> Some have grown up in parishes with indifferent clergy who go through the motions, but who fail to utilize the current liturgical rites properly and where reverence is lacking, or parishes where the liturgy was fraught with liberal abuses that degrade it, and have heard their grandparents, or even great grandparents, speak with longing for the supposed reverence of the Tridentine liturgy — or, if they have experienced the Tridentine liturgy, discovered a stark contrast with the Tridentine liturgy celebrated well (and I do believe that most clergy who celebrate the Tridentine liturgy today do care enough to do it well). In many cases, this results in a misconception that the Tridentine liturgy is somehow more reverent and worshipful.

        My experience obviously is different. When I was in elementary school, we had a priest who routinely celebrated Sunday mass with distribution of communion to the entire congregation in sixteen minutes (!). Reverent? No. Just rushed. But a priest who would race through the Tridentine mass in sixteen minutes probably also lacked the reverence and caring to celebrate the present ordinary form well. The bottom line here is that many of these young people are not getting an “apples to apples” comparison.



    • On the flip side, I should note that I agree 100% with your first point, Norm. Of course, I’m a convert, too, so I might not be the most impartial of judges. 😉


    • Sorry, one more quick note on your first point: “the formation provided to those received into full communion from other Christian bodies . . . typically is much more rigorous” — I don’t know, but in my personal experience, I entered the Church in spite of, not thanks to, my RCIA program, which was quite slipshod and light on substance. (By way of two anecdotal examples: we spent an entire class looking at photos of one of the lay leaders’ trips to the Holy Land, and one of the folks who entered the Church at the same time that I did held, and was never called out on, a publicly verifiable rank in Freemasonry). Rigorous, it was not.


  2. As a cradle Catholic I am amazed at the complications that are raised by very well meaning people, I am sure, regarding their Catholic faith. I do love my Catholic faith and church, with a passion, in spite of the many problems that have arisen over the years. The fact that we have the Gospels as our guide, the Eucharist, especially as detailed in the Gospel of JOHN, I find it difficult to understand the reasons for subjecting our Catholic Faith to so many complications that are raised from time to time, by well meaning and very scholarly writers. Ah. well!!!! I suppose I am a member of “the KISS brigade” keep it simple etc, etc. Yes, as far as I am concerned, the secret to my beloved Catholic faith is— TO LIVE FOR THE EUCHARIST, I am sure that wipes away all the complications that can and do arise for me in my Catholic life. BILL H.


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