I mentioned last week that I spent a 24-hour retreat day on the campus of Mundelein Seminary at the University of St. Mary of the Lake. My personal retreat included time to walk, pray, read and rest. It also included some time in the library. Mundelein Seminary has a great library filled with wonderful biblical and exegetical resources, as well as the expected Roman Catholic theological treasures. I love to “hang out” in libraries and discover what a school provides as resources to its faculty and students. Mundelein clearly has a first-rate library. The older section feels like its 1920s origins and the newer, brighter, window-filled newer section is inviting and warm.

I drew some comparison/contrasts between Mundelein and evangelical seminaries I have visited, and even taught at, over the years. I made a few mental notes of several differences:

1. Mundelein puts corporate worship at the very center of seminary life. Morning prayers are held each day at 8:00 in the chapel and a community worship time, with the Mass of course, is held daily at 11:30 a.m. Evangelical seminaries also have chapels, at least most of them do. At evangelical schools chapel, in most cases, is poorly attended. In most evangelical schools chapel occurs two of three times a week and community prayers even less frequently.

2. The atmosphere of the Mundelein service was reverent but not stuffy. (The liturgy was both read and sung and in Spanish they day I attended.) The service was global in perspective. Each Thursday chapel uses a language other than English. The day I was there the service was a folk-like context with beautiful Hispanic music, including a wide-range of instruments used from the balcony. (It just felt like worship, not entertainment, since the leaders were out-of-sight and the focus of our eyes was on the front of the chapel, not the rear.) Many evangelical schools have lots of international students but the sense of their contribution to public worship and liturgy is generally not prominent.

3. To my surprise the students are Mundelein are far more outgoing to a visitor than I have found at evangelical schools. Often on seminary campuses students walk right by me without eye contact and no personal greeting. At Mundelein this was entirely different. I talked to students, asked them lost of questions about their preparation for priesthood and their life orientation as single men. Evangelical students, often already married, live on and off campus and treat seminary as simply a school, not so much a community. I believe there is a real loss to community in the typical evangelical setting but I realize marriage is a huge factor in this difference.

4. Not once did I find a student or faculty member who treated me any differently when they discovered I was a non-Catholic. In fact, they often wanted to know more about me and my ministry and no one seemed to look down on my faith in the least. I do not know how a Catholic would be treated on an evangelical campus but I tend to think we are far less interested and emotionally open to the openness ecumenism has provided to us.

Evangelical seminaries do seem more diverse in certain ways and clearly tend to talk more openly about mission. At the same time I was pleasantly surprised at how much mission orientation I did see at Mundelein. The adoration of Mary exceeds what I can accept biblically but the gestures, the signs of the cross in prayer, and the constant sense of being around that which is holy impressed me deeply. (Even the door handles all have a cross on them!) One of most profound regrets I had in chapel was that we can not share a common Eucharist yet. This cannot, indeed will not, happen under the present circumstances. 

I did not find that my not taking the Mass was as much a disappointment as I thought it might be. I did find myself longing that the whole church may be able to come to the one table together again. I also found myself thinking a lot about John 17 all day long. At the end of the Mass I prayed for the catholic church around the world to be one in Christ during these dark and foreboding times when radical Isalm threatens all of us. I wondered if this same grief is shared deeply by my Catholic friends? I don’t know the full answer, of course, but some of these brothers seem to also long for more fellowship with those who do not share their views of ecclesial authority, the sacraments and other important doctrinal differences that keep us (rightly) separated. I also long for the day when the rampant anti-Catholic note that I have known in some conservative evangelicalism would simply die out. We have made great progress in a post-9/11 world. There is surely less and less room to maintain the old conflicts between serious Catholics and evangelical Christians. We are not living in the sixteenth century and our actions should demonstrate this reality. When radical Muslims attack Christians in Africa and the Middle East they do not separate the Catholics from Protestants in their persecution. We should learn from this reality and continue to wide range of dialogue that grows between Catholics and evangelicals.

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  1. Chad November 14, 2006 at 10:40 am

    Dr. Armstrong,
    Thanks for this heartfelt summary of what seems like a refreshing, albeit short, spiritual retreat.
    When one cannot receive the Eucharist for whatever reason, it is common to pray a prayer of spiritual communion, which may or may not be compatible with your beliefs, but thought I’d share it anyway, since it’s been helpful for me.
    “My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
    I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul.
    Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally,
    come at least spiritually into my heart.
    I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You.
    Never permit me to be separated from You.”

  2. John H. Armstrong November 14, 2006 at 5:19 pm

    Thanks for this Chad. I have received a “blessing” in this context, at the invitation of Catholic priests who know me as a brother and friend. I do believe Christ is present but not as the Catholic Church does so I could pray this prayer in terms of how I understand, in faith, the biblical witness. My forthcoming book on The Lord’s Supper will demonstrate how we agree/disagree and what can be done about it. As noted, Tom Baima, presents the Mass in this book.

  3. John H. Armstrong November 15, 2006 at 8:16 am

    Several good folks wrote to me in private to tell me that I should have used the word “veneration” for Mary, not “adoration,” which is reserved for the highest expression of worship called latria. I agree completely and admit I used the wrong word here. I know better but forgot. Forgive me please. No offense intended at all.
    As for the Mass I did take part in the service but did not receive the Eucharist, which is the correct way to state the point that I made.
    Thanks for the notes sent by several who showed much grace in writing to help me express my points better. My goal is serious dialogue and love, not making points pro and con.

  4. Nick Morgan November 16, 2006 at 10:49 am

    Thank you for sharing your experience and thoughts with us about your day at the Seminary. I am not surprised that you were treated well, in spite of the differences in our faith. As you rightly mentioned, Catholics often treat Evangelicals better than Evangelicals often treat Catholics. I too, as one who has rteurned to the Roman Catholic Church, long for the day when all Christians will experience the unity our Lord prayed for in John 17 and share in a common Eucharistic table. My return to the RCC has increased, not decreased this desire. Thank you for the ongoing work toward this goal that you do faithfully from the Evangelical side of the One Body of Christ. God bless!

  5. Andrew of the Holy Whapping November 20, 2006 at 10:48 pm

    Ecumenical dialog would be GREATLY helped if we were more sensitive to vocabulary. I am among the Catholics most devoted to Our Lady, but your use of the word “adoration” made me break out in hives. We are very clear that we reserve adoration for God alone, as any Christian with whom you should desire unification should do. We do honor Mary, joining the countless generations that shall call her blessed (Lk 1:48), and since she shares in the light of the Beatific Vision, we believe that she can hear our prayers in Christ just as all who are joined to God in beatific vision can see what happens on earth. But please… we don’t adore her.

  6. Fr Martin Fox November 20, 2006 at 11:11 pm

    This is offered only as food for thought — from the “Office of Readings” for Tuesday, the Feast of the Presentation of Mary:
    “The Virgin Mary is both holy and blessed, and yet the Church is greater than she. Mary is a part of the Church, a member of the Church, a holy, an eminent – the most eminent – member, but still only a member of the entire body.”
    These are the words of St. Augustine of Hippo, but the y are also what Catholics believe, which is why they are in the prayers all priests (and many laypeople) pray.

  7. Elizabeth, a Roman Catholic November 20, 2006 at 11:33 pm

    These are some very interesting perspectives. It is good to sometimes read an outsider’s perspective on Catholicism. Thank you especially for your remarks on Islam; certainly all of Christendom is in need of prayers in the face of this crisis.

  8. Jason Loh November 21, 2006 at 3:58 am

    It’s ironic that low church evangelicals of the type which talk a lot about revivals and are imbued with the spirit of revivalism, conversion experiences, Pietistic-type piety should now be openly embracing Roman Catholics as fellow brethren in Christ, part of the Catholic Church. This ought not to surprise us for our charge that revivalism whatever hue it is, that is even including so-called Reformed-type revivals leads ultimately to the abandonment of the Protestant Reformation aka classical Protestantism.
    The experience-centric ethos of revivalism fits well into Roman Catholic piety as well. Of course, in addition to experience, there is the outright denial of justification by faith alone being played out today in NT Wright, Auburn Avenue theology aka Federal Vision. John Amstrong belongs to the same group.
    But we who stand in the tradition of 16 cent. Protestant Reformation and by extension, Protestant Scholasticism (Reformed and Lutheran Orthodoxy) decry experientalism, legalism and false ecumenism.
    Yes, experientalism and legalism in revivalism is a fitting ecumenical ground today with Rome.

  9. Jason Loh November 21, 2006 at 4:08 am

    Can you imagine revivalists praying in the direction of a crucifix, or worships according to the liturgy, or exercises didactic catechetical-type piety, opposes altar calls, devalues crisis conversion, holds to baptismal regeneration, … the answer is no. And yet they are strange bed-fellows with Rome. Again no surprise there … same ethos and spirit.
    Ironic isn’t it that the low church evangelicals who self-righteously pontificate about popish rituals of e.g. Caroline divines should themselves be weaker in attitude towards Rome in the form of Vatican 2 with its universalism which is a departure from Vatican 1 which is closer to Augustinian exclusivism!

  10. Jason Loh November 21, 2006 at 4:22 am

    Funny is with the exception of Tridentine theology, the neo-legalists in the Reformed camp today do not really want to embrace Rome in its Augustinian garb aka apostolic succession. They are only interested in the mystic and experiential side of Rome, not the doctrinal (excepting justification) and liturgical side … the predestination, mariology, etc. Then again Rome has rejected authentic Augustinianism in its essence, i.e. absolute predestination.

  11. Jason Loh November 21, 2006 at 4:23 am

    Yes, revivalism and pentecostalism and charismaticism “leads” to Rome.

  12. Josh Miller November 21, 2006 at 6:45 am

    Thanks for visiting us at Mundelein, and for taking the time to write about the experience!

  13. Jason Loh November 21, 2006 at 7:15 am

    Any Puritans out there? Is this what 21st century Puritanism has become?
    Right, Thomism is more biblical than Arminianism. Yes, modern-day Calvinists are no different Thomists with respect to the salvific will of God, extent of the atonement, free will, etc. Woe unto the Puritans who sitll cling on to revivalism, adulation of John Wesley, tolerance of Pentecostal errors, etc.
    The antidote to Puritan legalism and revivalism is classical Protestantism – creedal and confessional Protestants – historic Reformation doctrine and practice.
    We standas true inheritors and successors of the Augustinian Succession – the Deposit of Faith containing the teaching concerning absolute, efficacious, infallible predestination as expounded by St. Augustine of Hippo, Fulgentius of Ruspe, Isidore of Seville, Gottschalk of Orbais, Ratramnus of Corbie, Thomas Bradwardine, Gregory of Rimini, etc. and many other obscure and ignored saints within and outside the magisterial Catholic Church …

  14. Jason Loh November 21, 2006 at 7:16 am

    Love for the Truth in Puritan circles today is surely scarce as a hen’s teeth!

  15. Rob C. November 21, 2006 at 9:38 am

    This Catholic prays regularly for the union of the Churches.
    A common Catholic practice is to make the sign of the Cross when passing a Catholic church, because the Blessed Sacrament is reserved inside.
    I have expanded this practice, so that whenever I pass a non-Catholic church I say a brief prayer for the reunification of the Church.
    Thanks for going to visit Mundelein. It’s quite an experience.

  16. David Deavel November 21, 2006 at 11:18 am

    Thanks for your comments. As an Evangelical convert to Catholicism it’s nice to see a gentle and appreciative view of Catholic life.
    I’ll say a prayer for you, today.

  17. Miguel November 21, 2006 at 1:02 pm

    Thank you for these interesting reflections! I should point out, however, that we Catholics do not, I repeat, do not, adore Mary. We venerate her, like we venerate great men or women in history, albeit more specially since she is the mother of Our Savior.

  18. cricket November 21, 2006 at 4:29 pm

    Right: for God we got latria and for most of the saints, sure, we got dulia. But for the BVM…
    We got Hyperdulia.
    How cool is that!?

  19. Nick Morgan November 27, 2006 at 11:48 pm

    Your rhetoric was a bit ambigous but I believe I detected a little “Catholic bashing” there. Am I correct? Well, as we say at the firehouse, “are you done yet?” Try reading Karl Keating’s “Catholicism and Fundamentalism” and follow it up with Norm Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie’s “Evangelicals and Roman Catholics: Agreements and Differences” for a more solid treatment of the discussion from both the Roman Catholic position and the Protestant/Evangelical position. And then if you’re really brave, and want to engage us Roman Catholics on our own turf, try reading he “Catechism of the Catholic Church”. At least in the spirit of Christian charity, try to be more reasonable and fair in your diatribe.

  20. Richard N November 28, 2006 at 6:00 am

    Dear John
    If you are going to write a book on The Lords Supper I would suugest you read what the earliest christian writers ( church fathers)wrote regarding the eucarist.Some of these writers were directly taught by the apostles.The inescapable conclusion after reading the church fathers is that they believed in the real presence of christ in the eucarist.

  21. John Armstrong November 28, 2006 at 3:12 pm

    Richard, I completely agree with you. The problem is “real presence” was not defined until later and that defining process is part of why we are not one on what the Supper actually means. Rome’s view is not the only “real preesnce” view since Luther, Calvin and Orthodox Christians all believe in “real presence” but define it very differently, as my book will show.
    It is right to say that they believed in “real presence” but wrong to conclude that this equals exactly the same view that Rome now holds. I respect Rome’s view thus the book has a Catholic presence in it, something I labored to have included so the book is truly fair to the facts.

  22. RINHARD N November 30, 2006 at 5:10 am


  23. John Armstrong November 30, 2006 at 5:26 pm

    Richard, I am sorry you cannot agree with me but I have read the Fathers and will keep reading them to grow and change wherever I am convinced by Scripture, tradition and the work of the Holy Spirit. We simply do not see this the same way. The key words that you use are “body, blood, soul and divinity.” The Orthodox Church does not agree with you in this definition (leaving the mystery much less defined in such terms) and they read the Fathers as well.
    I am not defending Luther at all and not sure where you got that idea. What I said was that many expressions of the one Great Tradition believe in “real presence” but do not define it the way Rome does. This is a simple fact. You can disagree with me personally but the phrase “real presence” does not belong to Rome alone. Your very words define the term “real presence” as you see it.

  24. RINHARD N December 2, 2006 at 5:59 am

    Dear John,
    My point regarding Luther was that I believe that teaching of and belief in the real presence of Jesus in the eucarist can be traced in an unbroken line from the reformation to the very ealy christians. But come the reformation in the 1500s this central catholic doctrine was one of the first things dicarded. So is it not logical to assume that the refomers and their subsequent generations of followers believe that the church was in error for over 1500 years.

  25. John H. Armstrong December 2, 2006 at 11:08 am

    This clarification helps Richard but the point I made is still irrefutable. Except for anabaptists, adn Zwingli, the mainstream Reformers did not reject “real presence” but rather a view of it that developed after the time of the Fathers, from roughly from the 10th to the 14th centuries.
    Since you posted your first response I did some checking and I am still convined the Orthodox Church, for example, affirmed “real presence” but not in the way Aquinas did and Rome concluded by the 15th century.
    If you wish to argue that Rome was right in how she understood the Supper that is one thing. This argument will be given very fairly and openly in my book by a Catholic scholar. But to argue that this is the only way to understand “real presence” is not right in my understanding and this was all I was trying to affirm in the first place.

  26. RINHARD N December 3, 2006 at 6:15 am

    Dear John,
    Could you please clarify or specify what differences you see in the eucaristic teachings of the chuch fathers or early chuch (eg Augustine 350) and the church at the time of the reformation or even the present time.I quote from St Augustine.
    “That Bread which you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God IS THE BODY OF CHRIST. That chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, IS THE BLOOD OF CHRIST. Through that bread and wine the Lord Christ willed to commend HIS BODY AND BLOOD, WHICH HE POURED OUT FOR US UNTO THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS.” (Sermons 227
    This is very much in line with the teaching of todays church and indeed the church through the agesas far as I know.

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