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Rigorism versus Radicalism

In The Emergent Church, Johann Baptist Metz contrasts two ecclesial responses to the church’s marginalization in modern Western culture.  He notes that many in the Catholic church respond to the decadence of bourgeois religion by insisting rigorously on certain points of Christian morality such as the prohibition of divorce and compulsory clerical celibacy as examples of this.  While not arguing against the church’s moral tradition as such, Metz does state that rigorism of the church does not call forth an alternative way of life that truly has the capacity to challenge bourgeois society at the level of social and political life.  He also notes the distinctive role played by money within the “rigorous” version of bourgeois religion.  It functions as a “binding symbol” and indeed as the form of “mediation between the Christian virtues”.  What this means is that the “public virtues” related to dealing with societal suffering are mediated almost exclusively by money.  On the model of moral rigorism the church’s moral task in the political realm is almost exclusively reduced to “a process of the mere giving of money.”

In contrast, Metz argues that the proper posture of the church in bourgeois society is one of radicalism.  What this means for him involves challenging the norms of society through “the all-embracing strategy of love to attack the dominant principles of exchange and barter as these spread insidiously into the psychic foundations of societal life, and overcoming the reification of interpersonal relations and their increasing interchangeability and transitoriness, the church is then radical without necessarily having to be rigorous in the legal sense.”  Likewise, here giving money cannot be the center of the Christian political ethic.  Rather the radical position insists on the tangibility of Christian love taking shape in actual relationships, rather than simply through various and sundry programs at which money can be thrown.

Metz sums up the contrast he seas as follows: “Rigorism springs more from fear, radicalism from freedom, the freedom of Christ’s call.” 


  1. More Metz, woo hoo! And, I just happen to totally agree with this post.

    Tuesday, March 11, 2008 at 10:27 pm | Permalink
  2. Freder1ck wrote:

    Yeah, rigorism doesn’t save. What’s needed is a free response to the Gospel, and consequently a shared life of caritas…

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 4:50 am | Permalink
  3. selvaraj wrote:

    Metz’s idea is good and relevant but the problem is how to enforce this radicalism. What are the ways? On this Metz does not speak much? Isn’t it? May be because his is a ‘fundamental theology’. Any way I agree with Metz

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 8:54 am | Permalink
  4. coldfire wrote:

    Relationships over money is the basis for a new reformation in the American church. The American church has become so dependent on money and finances to move forward the church movement, but real life change happens when relationships are formed at the deepest level.

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 12:02 pm | Permalink
  5. Freder1ck wrote:

    I would also venture that celibacy and stability of marriage are not actually about rigorism at all but ontology. I do note a contingent in the Catholic Church that sees these (and related issues) as a rigorism to be defended.

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 3:59 pm | Permalink
  6. Halden wrote:

    I think a lot of what Metz is focusing on is the sort of fear-driven fixation on “the family” and “family values” that takes place in the Catholic church (I see the same in the Evangelical churches as well).

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 5:19 pm | Permalink
  7. Hill wrote:

    I agree with Frederick… the criticism of rigorism is not a criticism of the actual moral precepts defended by rigorism, but a criticism of the ontological nature of their defense: rigorism as a mechanism of redemption.

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

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