Thursday, June 7, 2007

Truth is symphonic

Fr. Timothy Radcliffe. OP, the former Master General of the Order of Preachers Friars (a.k.a. the Domincans), gave a lecture in April 2006 based on a couple of chapters of a his most recent book, the lecture is entitled Overcoming Discord in the Church.

"I devoted two chapters in my latest book, What is the Point of Being a Christian?, which was published earlier this year, to healing divisions in the church. My core thesis in the book is this: We usually think of this polarization in terms of the dichotomy of left and right, progressive and conservative. But these categories are alien to Catholic thinking. They derive from the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment philosophers believed that the light had dawned because they had cast off the darkness of tradition, and especially of Catholic dogma. They liberated themselves from the past. But this supposes an opposition between tradition and innovation which is alien to Catholicism. It is the tradition that we have received, the Gospels, St. Paul, the great theologians of the past, who always renew us and provoke fresh insights. St. Thomas Aquinas (I have to bring him in, I know it’s my duty as a Dominican) who was one of the most creative theologians ever, would have been absolutely astonished if you had said to him that he was somehow against the tradition. The Second Vatican Council, for example, was a moment of incredible newness, and simultaneously a return to the Gospels and the theology of the early church."

What has occurred, Fr. Radcliffe avers, is that we have allowed ourselves "to become prisoners of other people's ways of thinking." Therefore, he continues, we must "claim our own categories." The categories he proposes, while still a bit overly simplistic by his own admission, are Kingdom Catholics and Communio Catholics. He then proceeds to make the case "that we need both." In other words, there is a dialectical tension between so-called Kingdom Catholics and Communio Catholics. A good way of explaining this dialectical tension is by employing an analogy I heard Archbishop Niederauer use on a few occasions: When asked whether she was a liberal or a conservative, the wise woman said that's like asking whether I want a car with either brakes or a gas petal.

"By Kingdom Catholics, I mean those of us who have a deep sense of the church as the pilgrim people of God, on the way to the kingdom. The theologians who have been central for this tradition have been people like the Jesuit Karl Rahner, and the Dominicans Edward Schillebeeckx and Gustavo Gutiérrez. This tradition stresses openness to the world, finding the presence of the Holy Spirit working outside the church, freedom and the pursuit of justice. They became very much identified with a publication called Concilium.

"By Communio Catholics I mean those who came, after the council, to feel the urgent need to rebuild the inner life of the church. They went with theologians like Hans von Balthasar and the then Joseph Ratzinger. Their theology often stressed Catholic identity, was wary of too hearty an embrace of modernity, and they stressed the cross. They had their publication. It was called Communio.

"Of course, all this is a bit of a caricature. I am able to go into a more nuanced analysis in my book. Most of us will feel some attraction to both of these traditions, but will probably feel a primary identification with one or the other. We will only heal the divisions if we stretch our imaginations open to understand why the others think and feel as they do. Before we can talk, we must sympathize, and feel how it is that their way of understanding the church offers them a home, a place in which to be at peace."

We must also recognize that we are, even now, just being Catholics. Once we accept this reality, we also come to see that there is no objectively pure way for us to just be Catholics, either in theory or in practice. God's people has always been a group of pilgrims. Hebrew means foreigner, or wanderer. Abraham going from Ur to Canaan, the children of Israel going into and coming out of Egypt, the captivities, exiles, and returns, the occupations and dispersions, etc. So, while, as Pope Pius XI observed, as Christians, we are spiritual Semites, it seems as pilgrims, we are, building on our spiritually Semitic identity, also Hebrews. Besides, as Exodus 12,38 tells us, it was a "crowd of mixed ancestry" that was liberated from Egypt.


  1. Dcn. Scott,

    You couldn’t hear the "amen's" coming from this side of the blogosphere last night as myself and a friend were reading your words. We were very appreciative of your insights about unity in diversity, and your pointing to what John Paul ll has said about respecting individualty and honoring the sanctuary of conscience etc. The church proposes, not imposes. That is beautiful and loving and powerful stuff.

    Some of us enter into the church with our own sense of "root shock" already in place. Looking for healing and stability, it's difficult to resist the tendency to start looking for the black and white in everything. You've helped me more times than I can tell you, to be able to see that tendency is not the most healthy. But even then, you just do it in a way that causes me to think beyond the first impulse.

    Can never thank you enough for that.


  2. Thanks, Tami. Tomorrow you will see much from that post re-worked in a more constructive manner. The new, improved post will be on why obedience is secondary at best. To paraphrase Gram, we have to get some things working inside for obedience to bear fruit in our lives and the lives of others. Plus, we must never mistake means for ends, an error all too easy to fall prey to, the consequences of such a mistake are spiritually devastating. Besides, what is it we are being obedient to and more importantly why are we bothering?

    In the meantime keep on just being Catholic, being Tami. Remember, when you find yourself in times of trouble, of inner turmoil, "let it be".


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