Out of the Labyrinth
By Leo Herbert Lehmann
Chick Publications, 1982, 252 pages
Ex-priest, Leo Herbert Lehmann (1895-1976), was director of Christ’s Mission in New York City from 1948 to 1950 and editor of the Converted Catholic magazine.
Out of the Labyrinth, originally published in 1947 and the sequel to Lehmann’s very popular autobiography, The Soul of a Priest (1933), is an interesting examination of Roman Catholic beliefs and practices compared to the Good News of salvation by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ alone as proclaimed in the New Testament. Rather than systematically critiquing Catholic theology, Lehmann jumps around from topic to topic using very short, very readable chapters. I enjoyed Out of the Labyrinth and learned several new things about Evangelical Protestantism’s view of post-World War II Catholicism. Unlike Boettner and Zachello who dwell quite a bit on secondary doctrinal differences, Lehmann correctly emphasizes the contrasting beliefs on justification as the primary difference between Catholicism and Evangelicalism.
Because this book was written just two short years after the end of the Second World War there are many references to Catholicism’s connections to Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. Rome would continue its support of Catholic-friendly fascist regimes in Spain, Portugal, and Latin America. Even into the 1960s Catholic apologists defended Rome’s right to suppress Protestant churches in cooperation with civil governments in countries where Catholics were in the majority.
Perhaps the highlight of the book for me is Lehmann’s presentation of “Saint” Rita of Cascia (1381-1457) as an example of ascetic Catholic “mystics” of the Middle Ages who attempted to merit their salvation through penitential sufferings and self-mortification. The Catholic church alleges that Jesus appeared to Rita, a nun, turning His crown of thorns into a bow and shooting her in the forehead with a (phallic) spiritual arrow. The resulting “stigmata” wound festered and putrified and became infested with insect larvae. The flesh-eating “worms” caused Rita excruciating physical suffering, which she offered up to her “spouse,” Jesus. If one of the carnivorous little creatures happened to drop to the floor she would carefully replace it back in the wound. Rita referred to the parasites as her “little angels.” Her convent mates could not stand to be in close proximity to her because of the nauseating odor emanating from the fetid sore (pp. 170-172). No, I’m not making this up. The woman was clearly mentally ill but Catholics venerate her as a “saint.” Forms of self-mortification still survive within Catholicism such as self-flagellation, wearing uncomfortable scapulars, crawling on knees at shrines, Filipino men allowing themselves to be nailed to crosses on Good Friday, etc.
Back when Out of the Labyrinth was originally published Evangelicals had no problem distinguishing between the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Rome’s gospel of sacramental grace and merit. But these days many Evangelical leaders jostle in line in their eagerness to court the pope and his salvation-by-works religion.
This 1982 reprint was published by Chick Publications. While I’m not a fan of Chick because they ascribe every earthly calamity to the Jesuits since the order’s founding in 1540, I’m grateful they resurrected this very valuable book.