As I’m sure many of you have heard, there’s now a brand new Confession App on the market for Roman Catholics — available for iPhone and iPod Touch for a very reasonable $1.99! Appararently it’s gotten the imprimatur from at least one Catholic Bishop, and I was surprised to learn that it was developed in conversation with Catholic theologian Thomas Weinandy.
What are the theological implications of this? I submit that it falsifies, in pretty much every way, John Milbank’s thesis about there being a Catholic “alternative” to modernity.
I’ve got to say, this recent open letter from Hans Kung to the bishops of the Roman Church is quite arresting. Whether one agrees with every point Kung makes or not, I think the common quasi-catholic tendency to dismiss Kung as a half-baked liberal is simply laziness and disingenuity. As far as I’m concerned, as Protestant who longs for mutual openness, recognition, and unity between all Christians, Kung’s words here are, on the whole, right on.
Jamie Smith has a review of Francis Beckwith’s book, Return to Rome up at The Other Journal. It certainly takes Beckwith to task for, among other things, making Rome in his own evangelical image. Definitely worth a read. Here’s an excerpt:
Beckwith has returned to the Rome of his evangelical dreams: a pure, pristine defender of truth, justice, and—not so surprisingly—the American way. No wonder, then, that he sees no tension between being “both Evangelical and Catholic.” His is an Evangelical Rome. This plays itself out in a curious conversation with his comrade J. P. Moreland. After reading Moreland a passage from an unnamed author who affirms that “the question about truth is the essential question of the Christian faith as such, and in that sense it inevitably has to do with philosophy,” Beckwith asks his colleague: “Guess who wrote this?” After Moreland reels off some favorite Protestant philosophers, Beckwith plays his gotcha: “It’s the Pope!” “He’s one of us!” Moreland replied in exuberance (78).
But somehow, I can’t imagine Benedict XVI on the faculty of Talbot School of Theology any time soon. So what’s going on here? Beckwith’s Pope is like Norman Geisler’s Aquinas: an anonymous evangelical. On a more macro scale, Beckwith’s Rome is evangelicalism by other means; that is, his is an intellectualized Catholicism—Rome as the home of the true set of Christian propositions or what Beckwith is wont to call “a Christian worldview.” Thus, he criticizes the Catholic teachers of his youth who “spoke of Catholicism as ‘our tradition’ rather than as a cluster of beliefs that were true” (36). The Rome to which he has returned is, ironically, the matrix of Christianity as an intellectual system—“ironically” because Cardinal Ratzinger (just a few weeks before becoming Pope Benedict XVI) has explicitly said that “Christianity is not an intellectual system, a collection of dogmas, or a moralism. Christianity is instead,” Ratzinger emphasized, “an encounter, a love story; it is an event.”
I’m sure we’ve all heard plenty about the recent round of abuse scandals among the Roman Catholic clergy. Of course this isn’t exactly new, but this time around it looks like they’re letting the Vatican’s resident exorcist come up with explanations for the phenomenon:
When you’re one of the most powerful institutions in the world and you’ve got an escalating series of sex abuse scandals erupting in such far-flung locales as Ireland, Germany, Brazil and beyond on a near daily basis, how do you even begin to do damage control? If you’re the Catholic Church, maybe you say you’re going to investigate. You issue a few letters. And then just to cover all your bases, you do a little Satan blaming. In a bold and arguably wack move, the Vatican’s normally press-shy exorcist Don Gabriele Amorth has been granting interviews left and right lately, and they are a treasure trove of WTF moments.
You say you hadn’t been aware the Vatican even had an official exorcist? Thought that stuff was just for Linda Blair movies? That’s likely because, prior to last week, the Vatican had permitted its exorcist to grant one interview in the entire last century. Now, suddenly he’s doing the rounds like he’s got a new rom-com with Gerard Butler opening Friday.
Speaking to La Republica last week, Amorth, who in fact does have a new book, “Memoirs of an Exorcist,” to shill, said, “When one speaks of ‘the smoke of Satan’ in the holy rooms, it is all true – including these latest stories of violence and pedophilia.” A few days later, he told the UK Times, “All evil is due to the intervention of the Devil, including pedophilia.” He also added that contemporary culture has “given in to the Evil One. You see it in the lack of faith, the empty churches, the collapse of the family. Compare the world of today to when I was a boy in Modena: families and parish communities were strong, women did not go out to work.”
I don’t know. If I were part of the Vatican superstructure working to get this matter settled, I don’t think I’d want this guy on my side.
It’s often commonly perceived that a central difference between Protestant and Roman Catholic ecclesiologies lies in that the former claims that one’s membership in the church is conditioned upon their union with Christ, whereas the latter tends to argue that one is only united with Christ through their membership in the church. Obviously this is caricature, but it does get at a common sentiment or style often found in various Protestant and Roman ecclesiologies.
But in turning the Roman Catechism again, I noticed something rather different. The Catechism specifically posits “the unity of all [the church's] members with each other as a result of their union with Christ” (789). This is the exact articulation of what is commonly perceived as the “Protestant” instinct, namely to argue that the church’s mutual togetherness is constituted by Christ’s own indwelling of all Christians. In other words, even for the Roman Catechism one does not obtain union with Christ by becoming part of the church, rather through Christ’s act of uniting himself with you, you become part of the community of all those in whom Christ already dwells through the Spirit.
My quote earlier from Joan of Arc about how Christ and the church are “just one thing” and “we shouldn’t complicate the matter” brought up the question of how some of the other quotes from the same section of the Catechism might qualify and illuminate that sort of crude language. Well, here they are (emphasis mine):
Let us rejoice then and give thanks that we have become not only Christians, but Christ himself. Do you understand and grasp, brethren, God’s grace toward us? Marvel and rejoice: we have become Christ. For if he is the head, we are the members; he and we together are the whole man…. The fullness of Christ then is the head and the members. But what does “head and members” mean? Christ and the Church. (Augustine)
Our redeemer has shown himself to be one person with the holy Church whom he has taken to himself. (Gregory the Great)
Head and members form as it were one and the same mystical person. (Aquinas)
Now, clearly all of these quotes use far superior language and employ greater sophistication than the quote from the Maid of Orleans. However, I don’t see how they amount to anything much different. To say that the church and Christ are “one person”, even one “mystical” person (definitely not a distinctly Pauline iteration of body of Christ language there), seems to posit a form of unity that is far too conflating. If Christ and the church are “one person” the very notion of distinguishing between the action of the church and the action of Christ is lost, thus rejecting the biblical notion of Jesus as the one who saves, who is the “one mediator between God and humankind” (1 Tim 2:5).
As one might expect, the teaching of the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church is heavy in its emphasis on the church as the body of Christ. In its discussion of the totus Christus, and the nature of Christ’s headship over the body there are several sources sited: Augustine, Pope Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas, and . . . Joan of Arc?
Indeed. Not only is Joan of Arc quoted, she is quoted as summing up “the faith of the holy doctors and the good sense of the believer”:
About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.
Now obviously I don’t want to make a statement by Joan of Arc out to be the height of Roman Catholic theological sophistication regarding the nature of the totus Christus. However, the Catechism clearly says that it sums up the teaching of the doctors and the sense of the faithful. As such this seems utterly inadequate and, in fact, an outright contradiction of the New Testament’s way of talking about Jesus and the church. Whatever the relation, Jesus and the church certainly are not “just one thing.”
In response to the inquiries about the routine cover-ups of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, one Irish priest had this to say:
There is no good in saying other than the truth. The church at this state has no credibility, no standing and no moral authority. The issue is now one of trust, and that is why it will take the rest of my lifetime as a priest to build up that trust again, because the trust and confidence in the church has been broken on a fundamental level.
Truth-telling always deserves promotion. I will pray for Fr Michael Canny, of the Derry Diocese of Ireland that he will not grow wearing in speaking the truth and trying to do what is right on behalf of those who have suffered.
He is certainly right that there is no good in saying anything other than the truth. Ecclesial faithfulness can mean nothing less than this.
We’ve had plenty of discussion about the recent apostolic constitution from Rome regarding the admission of Anglo-Catholics into communion. Clearly there has been a lot of less than informed commentary from a variety of news outlets in the whole discussion. If there’s anything I’ve learned about Anglo-Catholicism from all this its that they are one bizarre group. Indeed, if you ask me this whole thing says far more about the nature of Anglo-Catholicism than it does about the Roman church. It should come as no surprise to anyone that Rome wants as many people as possible to become Roman Catholic. This has always been true. To be sure there are voices of ecumenical opposition from within the ranks, like Walter Kasper and Hans Kung who would like to see mutual recognition and reconciliation between Roman and Protestant churches, but in the main, the Vatican has always and unapologetically desired and sought the integration of all other Christians into itself. That’s simply business as usual. A traditional Catholic self-understanding seems to require an orientation such as this. Nobody should be shocked by this.
However, pause and consider for a moment what this whole thing says about the nature of Anglo-Catholicism (or at least the sort of Anglo-Catholics who are likely to convert to Rome through this recent pronouncement). Apparently Anglo-Catholics desire union with Rome because they truly believe everything that Rome teaches. Ok. But if that’s the case one wonders why they haven’t joined up with the throne of Peter long before now. After all, if I really truly believed that in order to be a part of Jesus’s church I needed to be submitted to the Pope, I’m pretty sure I’d get right on that.
But what we actually see here is an intricate process of making sure that any Anglo-Catholic parishes that come into the Roman fold are able to maintain their polity and liturgical practice. Being able to have their cake and eat it too is at the center of this whole arrangement. Now none of this is to say that the Anglican rite that will be preserved in these churches is somehow silly or irrelevant or worthless. I’m sure its a rich tradition that should be preserved. All I’m saying is that the level of priority it seems to be being accorded by the Anglo-Catholics is pretty crazy. If they really believe that the Pope is the successor of Peter and that all Christians must be in communion with him to be fully catholic, why the hell would they insist that they get their liturgical guarantees beforehand? If being Roman Catholic is as important to them as it seems to be to most Roman Catholics, why does this whole thing turn on them getting to make sure they can run their parishes and liturgies the way they want to?
It all seems to come down to an attitude of, “Well, we’d like to be Catholic, as long as we can still basically do our own Anglo-centric thing.” I suppose I get that and everything, and I’m definitely a fan of enculturated forms of liturgy, but there seems to be something pathological here. The bottom of this whole thing seems to be an issue of sentimentality rather than theology. The Anglo-Catholics seem desperate to preserve their distinctly Anglo nature more than anything else. If Rome is up for accommodating them, they seems happy to jump on board. But one wonders, would the Anglo-Catholics end up converting without these concessions? Would they want to be part of a Roman Catholic church that didn’t give them all their demands in advance? Would they want to be part of a Roman Catholic church that stuck by their doctrine and practice and required them to do so as well, rather than making special arrangements to accommodate their national and cultural sensibilities?
In short, the way this whole issue turns on liturgical preferences and being able to keep married priests says a lot about what sort of mass conversion this would really be if it happened. By bowing to the aesthetic and cultural sentimentalities of Anglo-Catholicism, Rome has made sure that any conversions that come from this will be of an utterly Protestant nature. The sort of Catholic longing that we see in Anglo-Catholicism seems to me to be little more than a sort of sublimity. What we have here is an aestheticization of catholicity which ultimately undermines the credibility of any Anglo-Catholic claim to really take catholicity itself seriously. If this whole debacle showcases anything it is that the “Anglo” designation is far more determinative of Anglo-Catholicism than the “Catholic” one.
Kung has some harsh words for the recent apostolic constitution from the Vatican seeking to bring Anglo-Catholics into the Roman fold:
As I wrote in 1967, “a resumption of ecclesial community between the Catholic church and the Anglican church” would be possible, when “the Church of England, on the one side, shall be given the guarantee that its current autochthonous and autonomous church order under the Primate of Canterbury will be preserved fully” and when, “on the other side, the Church of England shall recognise the existence of a pastoral primacy of Petrine ministry as the supreme authority for mediation and arbitration between the churches.” “In this way,” I expressed my hopes then, “out of the Roman imperium might emerge a Catholic commonwealth.”
But Pope Benedict is set upon restoring the Roman imperium. He makes no concessions to the Anglican communion. On the contrary, he wants to preserve the medieval, centralistic Roman system for all ages – even if this makes impossible the reconciliation of the Christian churches in fundamental questions. Evidently, the papal primacy – which Pope Paul VI admitted was the greatest stumbling block to the unity of the churches – does not function as the “rock of unity”. The old-fashioned call for a “return to Rome” raises its ugly head again, this time through the conversion particularly of the priests, if possible, en masse. In Rome, one speaks of a half-million Anglicans and 20 to 30 bishops. And what about the remaining 76 million? This is a strategy whose failure has been demonstrated in past centuries and which, at best, might lead to the founding of a “uniate” Anglican “mini-church” in the form of a personal prelature, not a territorial diocese. But what are the consequences of this strategy already today?
First, a further weakening of the Anglican church. In the Vatican, opponents of ecumenism rejoice over the conservative influx. In the Anglican church, liberals rejoice over the departure of the catholicising troublemakers. For the Anglican church, this split means further corrosion. It is already suffering from the consequences of the heedless and unnecessary election of an avowed gay priest as bishop in the US, an event that split his own diocese and the whole Anglican communion. This friction has been enhanced by the ambivalent attitude of the church’s leadership with respect to homosexual partnerships. Many Anglicans would accept a civil registration of such couples with wide-ranging legal consequences, for instance in inheritance law, and would even accept an ecclesiastical blessing for them, but they would not accept a “marriage” in the traditional sense reserved for partnerships between a man and a woman, nor would they accept a right to adoption for such couples.
Second, the widespread disturbance of the Anglican faithful. The departure of Anglican priests and their re-ordination in the Catholic church raises grave questions for many Anglicans: are Anglican priests validly ordained? Should the faithful together with their pastor convert to the Catholic church?
Third, the irritation of the Catholic clergy and laity. Discontent over the ongoing resistance to reform is spreading to even the most faithful members of the Catholic church. Since the Second Vatican Council in the 60s, many episcopal conferences, pastors and believers have been calling for the abolition of the medieval prohibition of marriage for priests, a prohibition which, in the last few decades, has deprived almost half of our parishes of their own pastor. Time and again, the reformers have run into Ratzinger’s stubborn, uncomprehending intransigence. And now these Catholic priests are expected to tolerate married, convert priests alongside themselves. When they want themselves to marry, should they first turn Anglican, and then return to the church?
Just as we have seen over many centuries – in the east-west schism of the 11th century, in the 16th century Reformation and in the First Vatican Council of the 19th century – the Roman thirst for power divides Christianity and damages its own church. It is a tragedy.
Now, I realize that in the minds of many Kung is simply an ultra-liberal Catholic who should be cast out into the street. I can’t really say. I haven’t read enough of his work to really know. But something about this doesn’t really sound crazy to me. It actually sounds kind of honest.
H/T: Sub Ratione Dei
David Gibson has some interesting commentary on the unexpected way Ratzinger’s papacy is turning out, as seen most recently in the whole move to bring in the disaffected Anglicans:
Thus far, Benedict’s papacy has been one of constant movement and change, the sort of dynamic that liberal Catholics — or Protestants — are usually criticized for pursuing. In Benedict’s case, this liberalism serves a conservative agenda. But his activism should not be surprising: As a sharp critic of the reforms of Vatican II, Ratzinger has long pushed for what he calls a “reform of the reform” to correct what he considers the excesses or abuses of the time.
Of course a “reformed reform” doesn’t equal a return to the past, even if that were the goal. Indeed, Benedict’s reforms are rapidly creating something entirely new in Catholicism. For example, when the pope restored the old Latin Mass, he also restored the use of the old Good Friday prayer, which spoke of the “blindness” of the Jews and called for their conversion. That prayer was often a spur to anti-Jewish pogroms in the past, so its revival appalled Jewish leaders. After months of protests, the pope agreed to modify the language of the prayer; that change and other modifications made the “traditional” Mass more a hybrid than a restoration.
More important, with the latest accommodation to Anglicans, Benedict has signaled that the standards for what it means to be Catholic — such as the belief in the real presence of Christ in the Mass as celebrated by a validly ordained priest — are changing or, some might argue, falling. The Vatican is in effect saying that disagreements over gay priests and female bishops are the main issues dividing Catholics and Anglicans, rather than, say, the sacraments and the papacy and infallible dogmas on the Virgin Mary, to name just a few past points of contention.
That is revolutionary — and unexpected from a pope like Benedict. It could encourage the view, which he and other conservatives say they reject, that all Christians are pretty much the same when it comes to beliefs, and the differences are just arguments over details.
And that could be the final irony. For all the hue and cry over last week’s developments, Benedict’s innovations may have glossed too lightly over the really tough issues: namely, the theological differences that traditional Anglicans say have kept them from converting, as they could always do.
Brad has a post up responding the rash of discussion about the latest development between Rome and Canterbury regarding the future of Anglo-Catholics. The question he raises is whether or not Protestants have good reasons for desiring the perpetual existence of their denominational and institutional structures at all.
Certainly a worthy point. However, I think all of this hints towards a bigger ecclesiological question: Is the desire for perpetual institutional perdurance something that is theologically acceptable for any ecclesial tradition?
As Brad notes, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox communions make the strongest claims for the necessity of their own institutional perdurance, but I don’t think that matters too much in regard to the actual theological question. Clearly any institutional structure will find its own perpetuation supremely important, so we should expect this, especially from institutions that have a very long history. It should come as no surprise to us that the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox are the most vocal proponents of the absolute theological necessity of their institutional propagation. However, the theological question is if this survivalist and protectionist mentality is what the gospel calls out and seeks to create in the scope God’s own work, in Christ and the Spirit, of transforming the world into the kingdom of God.
Obviously one could make the argument that simply by virtue of their prolonged existence, God has validated the claims of churches that make such arguments, but clearly that rests on major historiographical assumptions about the nature of God’s work in the world. This argument simply proceeds by identifying God’s work with the historical outcomes that have led to things as they currently are. In short, it rests on the assumption that God is behind the survival of a given institution simply by virtue of the fact that it has historically come to exist and remain in existence. Clearly there are some ideological problems that inhere in such a historiography, at least from my own perspective on the issue.
None of this is meant to argue that Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox are simply a bunch of survival-obsessed ecclesial bureaucrats (a very different argument would be needed to substantiate that notion). Rather it is just to say that any argument for the necessity of ecclesial institutional perdurance ought to be made from within the logic of the gospel itself, indeed, if one cannot show how the gospel requires a specific form institutional self-propagation to be required by the gospel, it seems to me that we should view all such claims with suspicion given the way in which all institutions inevitably seek self-propagation and survival.
I’ve already made some comments on the recent apostolic constitution released by the Vatican designed to establish a smooth fast track for incorporating as many Anglican Christians, congregations, and priests as possible.
I’ll withhold extensive comment here because I actually just want to hear what other people think of this development. My basic sense is that this is only good if one’s sole idea of ecumenism is simply conversion to the Roman church. So, basically I don’t really think this is a good thing in any way, though of course I understand why many Catholics might. The timing of the matter is what I think is really problematic though.
But enough on that: what do other people think on this?
Okay, I know that there have always been “special dispensations” and exceptions and the like for married priests converting from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism and remaining priests. But now it looks like Rome is doing everything it can to bend over backwards and make this transition as easy as possible for as many Anglicans as possible.
So clearly, what’s happening here is that Rome is more than willing for a big influx of married priests which would oversee numerous flocks, right? Well, as I understand things clerical celibacy is not a dogma of the church, rather it is a pragmatic pastoral practice that the church has adopted and could, ostensibly change (after all it has been quite different at points throughout the church’s history).
Now, if clerical celibacy is a pragmatic pastoral practice it seems like it should be, well, pragmatic. In other words it should have some distinct practical advantages that make it preferable. But doesn’t this move to include any married Anglican priests reveal that the Vatican clearly doesn’t believe this? I mean, if being married really was an impediment to caring for a congregation, why would they be so eager to make space for it with Anglicans?
It seems patently odd for a church to make exceptions for its converts that it refuses to dispense to its faithful lifetime members, doesn’t it? And if being married in and of itself isn’t problematic for Anglican clergy who convert, why would it be problematic for Catholic priests to begin with?
It also seems undeniable to me that clerical celibacy has contributed to the decline of the Catholic church, at least in the West if not elsewhere. The massive shortage of priests has been documented at length. So, given that, and the fact that, at least for Anglican converts, marriage doesn’t pose a practical problem for ordained ministry, why does the hierarchy insist on retaining mandatory celibacy as the clerical norm? What possible advantage does it have? I really can’t think of any. And if its supposed to be somehow a practical move that helps the practice of pastoral ministry it seems like this is an utterly vital question.
Watching (d)evolution of the lumbering organism that is First Things is certainly interesting. One of the latest developments in this conservative bazaar is the recent addition of a group blog by evangelicals. The lineup is rather interesting, consisting of the sort of usual suspects one might expect to see on a blog by politically conservative evangelicals (i.e. plenty of the Biola types). However, when you starting looking though the posters more deeply, and some of the posts, things start to look quite odd, considering the deeply Catholic nature of First Things.
To take the most extreme example, at least one of the posters on this new blog is ardently anti-Catholic. Like, extremely so. Think rabid fundamentalism meets the New Calvinism meets a loud person with an IQ of around 75 and you’ll have a slight idea of what we’re dealing with here. What are people like that doing posting on the same site as David Bentley Hart and Rusty Reno? It boggles the imagination.
But if you really think about it, all the pieces fit. At the most fundamental level the “first thing” which this publication concerns itself is simply neoconservatism. And really nothing more than that. To be sure there are exceptions that prove the rule, and occasionally a good article or post peeks its head through the quicksand, but the fact remains that at a basic level as long as you’re a political conservative, nothing else matters at First Things. You can be an Ultramontane Caesaropapist or a Fundamentalist who thinks the pope is the antichrist as long as you’re both glad to be conservative together.
As such, I submit that First Things is only serving to perpetuate what they so often deride: the privatization of religious and theological convictions. For them, the most central claims of the church’s life and doctrine are swept aside so that all can come together in the embrace neoconservative ideology, the master story that supersedes all religious and theological trivialities. Oddly enough, this predominately Roman Catholic publication actually offers a goofy and contrived alternative form of catholicity, namely that of neoconservative ideology. It is conservatism rather than the faith of the church that will bind us together in common mission, concord, and purpose. Truly a bizarre, though not unpredictable ideological development. A publication dedicated to theology’s public importance has ultimately become nothing more than the obviation of theology itself. As such all we have left is a half-baked neocon ideology in the ruins of what was once a sort of okay publication.