Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Evangelical Catholicism

June 11th, 2013, Promulgated by Dominick Anthony Zarcone
Evangelical Catholicism

Evangelical Catholicism




“Today we seem to be witnessing the birth of a new Catholicism that……is authentically evangelical…. (Catholicism) at its best has always promoted a deep personal relationship with Christ.  (The Church) is a means of drawing the whole world into union with God through Jesus Christ.  The first and highest priority for the Church is to proclaim the good news concerning Jesus Christ as a joyful message to the whole world.  Only if the Church is faithful to its evangelical mission can it hope.…..” Avery Dulles, 1991

George Weigel includes the above quote in his most recent book, “EVANGELICAL CATHOLICISM Deep Reform in the 21st- Century Church” because, like the renowned Father Avery Dulles, Weigel himself is convinced, ‘the Church that is being born out of more than a hundred years of deep Catholic reform (which started with the pontificate of Leo XIII) is the Church of the New Evangelization’.   While the Church of the ‘Counter-Reformation Catholicism’ was an appropriate mode of being Catholic for five centuries, Weigel argues that this ‘institutional maintenance’ mode of being Catholic will not be fruitful in the toxic culture of the early 21st century.

During a Catholic Answers Live broadcast, Weigel explained that Evangelical Catholicism is best understood as the Church of the Second Vatican Council as authoritatively interpreted by both John Paul II and Benedict XVI and being lived out right now by Pope Francis.  Evangelical Catholicism is the Church with a missionary edge and evangelical fervor; the Church which is “putting out into the deep” of the New Evangelization.

Weigel writes of a 21st century Church which must no longer fail to live the Gospel.  The 21st century Church must live the good news of Christ in an openly evangelical way that invites people into friendship with Jesus.

In order to help his readers appreciate what he means by using ‘Evangelical Catholicism’ to describe this most necessary reform of the Church, Weigel enumerates what it is not.

  1. Not a way of being Catholic that adapts catechetical practices and modes of worship from evangelical, fundamentalist, and pentecostalist Protestantism; (There is no attempt to remake Catholicism in the image and likeness of Protestant Evangelicalism.)

  2. Not the Catholicism of the future as imagined by ‘progressive’ or ‘traditionalists’; (Yet from the former Evangelical Catholicism takes the imperative of development and from the latter it takes the imperative of development/reform that follows the essential form of the Church given it by Christ.)

  3. Not a Catholicism tailored to be, by contrast to western Europe, the comparatively stronger condition of the Catholic Church in the USA;

  4. Not simply a response to the sexual abuse crisis that has dominated the world media’s coverage of the Church since 2002;

  5. Not a movement within Catholicism, or a Catholic sect, or a new kind of Catholic elite;

  6. Not a substitute for Roman Catholicism. (Although Evangelical Catholicism is closely linked to the emergence of the modern papacy.)

In the rest of his prologue, Weigel summarizes the cultural situation in which the Church’s Christian orthodoxy and Christian life finds itself challenged and therefore in need of the deep reform which Evangelical Catholicism can fruitfully effect to meet those challenges and be faithful to truth and mission.

Our author promises to define in greater detail what evangelical Catholicism actually is in the first part of the book entitiled The Vision of Evangelical Catholicism.  He will describe the reforms to which this vision ought to lead the Church in the second part, The Reforms of Evangelical Catholicism.

Weigel closes his book’s prologue by asserting that Evangelical Catholicism encourages a profound reflection on the missionary heart of the Church and on how that missionary heart might be expressed in the 21st century and beyond.

My personal reflection also ponders Catholic use of the term which for almost five hundred years has been describing ‘protestant’, ‘reformed’ Christianity; a Christianity which had rejected Catholicism.  How does one make sense of its use for explaining Catholicism in the late 20th early 21st century?  The following analogy works for me.

Catholic apologists explain that the Bible came from the Church and as such is the Church’s book.  Yet, the Bible now exists outside the visible Church.  Likewise, evangelical is a term which both comes from and describes the Church’s faith, identity, and mission.  And yet, the term exists outside the visible Church.

Just as that which is biblical belongs to the Catholic Church and that which is Catholic is biblical or not opposed to the Bible, that which is genuinely evangelical belongs to the Church and that which is authentically Catholic is evangelical.

The Gospel (the evangel, the good news) is all about Jesus.  The Catholic Church’s faith/identity/mission is all about Jesus.  Thus, in my way of thinking, the Catholic Church of Christ is evangelical.

In the next article of this book review we will examine Weigel’s Vision of Evangelical Catholicism to more clearly understand his way of thinking.  Perhaps we will become convinced that the Catholic Church, ever ancient/ever new, is the evangelical and missionary Church which the Lord Jesus intends and now is calling us to further actualize.


2 Responses to “Evangelical Catholicism”

  1. annonymouse says:


    I would have to quarrel with that. That is certainly the vision of Weigel’s book; indeed, that is the vision of the Council, authentically interpreted by John Paul, Benedict and now Francis. But are we there, yet? I would have to say “no” to that – and I’m not certain that we the Church are moving very quickly in that direction, all the talk of the “New Evangelization” notwithstanding. How many of our parishes had more baptisms than funerals last year? How many Easter Sacraments did we witness? There are, no doubt, isolated pockets of the Church experiencing this New Evangelization, but it’s certainly not widespread, and especially so in the West. And I’m not aware of a single parish in our diocese that one could truthfully call “Evangelical.”

    Weigel also describes Evangelical Catholicism as something that transcends notions of “progressive” and “traditional.” Again, that is a great vision, but where can we say that that vision has been embraced? One might argue that the existence of this site proves that such notions have not been transcended. I wonder what our Church might look like if the “progressives” and “traditionalists” both stopped attempting to remake the Church in their own image and instead devoted their energies to spreading the Gospel and growing the Church as she is.

  2. Dominick Anthony Zarcone says:

    Hi, annonymouse, thanks for your comment. I am not so sure we have a quarrel per se. Some conversation between us is much appreciated by me, thanks again.

    If I remember correctly, you also have read Weigel’s book. I sense that you value his thesis and consider his blueprint for deep reform to be what the Church needs. But more about that later.

    “But are we there, yet?”…….No, not at all. But, one person espousing or theologically articulating (Weigel, for example) and one Bishop or more implementing (John Paul II, Benedict XVI, Francis) and two laymen believing, praying and living Evangelical Catholicism(annonymouse and Dominick) DOES MEAN we are witnessing “the birth of a new Catholicism that……is authentically evangelical…” because “the Church that is being born out of more than a hundred years of deep Catholic reform (which started with the pontificate of Leo XIII) is the Church of the New Evangelization”.

    Is it really a matter of numbers? Didn’t Pope Benedict say something about the Lord pruning and cultivating a smaller Church and don’t the Scriptures give witness to a remnant?

    However, annonymouse, there is much more testimony to Evangelical Catholicism effecting the hoped for reform and renewal than Weigel, the Popes and us. While I am not familiar with many parishes in the Diocese here, I do know that Father Mike Mayer is on board and David Higbee’s Saint Irenaeus Center/Ministries have been faithfully bearing fruit for years.

    So, it is not all barren without life.

    There are a number of very good Catholic Universities and Colleges living the Gospel and inviting others into friendship with Jesus. Father Robert Barron is a huge blessing. Father John Riccardo is an intentional disciple of Christ who is forming other intentional disciples by the grace of God, prayer and hard work.

    There is great hope for all of us….oh, don’t forget about the Church in Africa; alive in the Lord!

    I agree that “it’s certainly not widespread, and especially so in the West”. We must consider, however, apostolates like Renewal Ministries and their fruitfulness in the USA, Canada, and Eastern Europe. Dr. Ralph Martin has reported that Bishops, Priests and Seminarians have benefited from his work and that of Renewal Ministries.

    But rather than trying to remember every alive in the Lord movement toward real reform and renewal, I am grateful that the Lord is working in our midst raising up theologians, clergy, consecrated religious and laity who have responded to Jesus’s invitation to friendship, discipleship, truth and Christ’s evangelical mission.

    Lastly, you wrote, “I wonder what our Church might look like if the “progressives” and “traditionalists” both stopped attempting to remake the Church in their own image and instead devoted their energies to spreading the Gospel and growing the Church as she is.”

    Rather than my commenting on it, it would be more interesting if any of those who identify themselves as progressive or traditionalist offer input.

    (The staff of this site give me much hope. To me, they seem to be in harmony with the Second Vatican Council, all of Sacred Tradition and the papal interpretation which is authoritative. That gives me encouragement and a sense of not being alone in Rochester….Deo Gratias)

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