Sola Shea | Catholic World Report
Mark Shea interviews Mark Shea about By What Authority? An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition
Editor's note: I've known Mark Shea for many years, having first met him in person about ten years ago in Seattle, just a few hours up the road from where I live. A few years ago, I interviewed Mark about his Marian trilogy, published by Catholic Answers. As I thought about interviewing Mark about the revised and expanded edition of his book, By What Authority? An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition (Ignatius Press, 2013), I thought, “I need someone who can really get into Mark's head. Someone who know him better than most and who can ask the difficult, even awkward, questions.” And then I realized who would be the perfect interviewer. What follows is that the interview of Mark Shea by Mark Shea, or of “Mark” by “Shea” for those who cannot tell them apart.
There is only one drawback for me to this interview: having to interview that guy, whose faults are particularly well-known to me. I grew up with him and there are plenty of stories I could tell you. He is a guy who has spent more time eluding my salient criticisms and critiques—sometimes living in denial, sometimes promising reform and then skipping out when the kitchen got too hot, always slow to serious action—than anybody else on planet Earth. Abrasive, opinionated, quick to see the speck in the eyes of others and slow to see the log in his own eye. He has a juvenile sense of humor and a thin skin. He is notoriously prideful and childishly vain. He is, shall we say, “portly” and not what you would call a champion at self-restraint. He has a talent for making enemies and a certain listlessness when it comes to attending to the work that he needs to be doing. Nor does he have any particular academic training beyond his tepid BA in English.
Essentially, he has a big mouth and a bunch of opinions and yet somehow managed to persuade a lot of people that saying them aloud is sufficient reason for them to listen to him. There are any number of people who can’t stand him, me among them many days of the week, and I have to restrain myself from letting my hostility to him bleed into the conversation. However, I think I mostly managed it.
Mark: So. There are fifty jillion conversion stories out there. Why would you ever imagine yours is so important that it needs to be read by anybody else? What’s the big deal about By What Authority? and why does it matter that you just revised and expanded the book when it has been in print since 1996?
Shea: Well, when you put it that way, I didn’t really think of the book as a conversion story, but as an argument: one conducted (in my head) with friends from my old church and constructed—very consciously—along the lines of a sort of mystery story.
Mark: Not a conversion story?
Shea: No. Not really. By What Authority? deals with a single thread out of a whole tapestry of thoughts, emotions, struggles and problems I grappled with as I was coming into the Church. I have never really written up what I would call my conversion story, though I have told it and you can hear that story (if you like) by getting hold of a four-CD set that I did ages ago for St. Joseph Communications called Making Senses Out of Scripture. Three of the CDs are a seminar I did on my book of the same name. The fourth is my conversion story. The question of Sacred Tradition and the canon of scripture plays a role in that story, but lots of other things come in as well.
Mark: So are you saying that By What Authority? is not really giving the reason you converted?
Shea: No. I’m saying By What Authority? is describing only one of the reasons I converted. People seldom convert for a single reason, at least not when the conversion is a healthy one. Rather, you come to see that, as von Balthasar put it, “Truth is symphonic”. It’s not just that you realize that Sacred Tradition points toward the Church, or that Scripture points toward the Real Presence, or that the Magisterium and papacy make sense, or that Marian devotion is obviously apostolic and ancient. It’s that, eventually, everything starts pointing to the Faith like the spokes on a wheel. You reach a tipping point at which you realize the question is no longer “Why be Catholic?” but is rather “Why not be Catholic?” You start to realize the Church doesn’t tell this truth and that truth, but that it is a divinely constituted truth-telling thing, even when its member may be liars and scoundrels. And you are hard put to it to find good rebuttals to its teachings.
Mark: So you decided to grace the Church with your presence?