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Issue 16 – Easter 2023


God's Marines

On what constitutes a church.


On a recent drive to Atlantic Beach in North Carolina, on a Sunday, I passed a little Baptist church whose lit-up, plastic signboard bore this analogy: “America without her Marines is like God without his angels.” I concluded that it was intended as an analogy, not merely a simile, even though its author had surely not intended even the beginning of a scholastic characterization. Baptist scholasticism is real, but it is in no wise consciously speculative.

But I am getting ahead of myself. My first, instinctive reaction to the signboard’s assertion was pointedly apologetic, controversialist. Keep in mind that one such as myself, a convinced Dionysian-Augustinian disciple of Saint Thomas, sees in general statements about the role of the angels a kind of proto-ecclesiology. Angels are the original Church, after all, and Her hierarchical life of sacraments and apostolate is a continuation of the angelic life. Protestants of our Southern Baptist variety conceive of the Church as essentially a community of the saved, determined by an invisible, inner experience of faith, and thus without any strictly, specifically necessary outward signs or hierarchy or mediation by creatures. Necessary for what? For salvation, of course. In Baptist thought, there is barely any other theological theme worth mentioning. Even so, however there must be some external, communal structure for the propagation of this essentially internal, personal State of salvation.

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About the author

Hugh Barbour

Father Hugh Barbour, O.Praem., is a Norbertine of Saint Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California.