All the Church news that’s fit to print

20 01 2010

The thought of Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx is examined in this rather perceptive article in the New York Times about the Church in the last seventy years.

I thought this quote in particular to be the most pertinent:

Like many Catholic theologians who influenced the council, Father Schillebeeckx had reacted against the neo-scholastic theology that the church adopted in the 19th century as a bulwark against hostile modern ideas. Distilled from the thought of Thomas Aquinas but frequently handed on without any examination of Aquinas’s writings or their medieval context, this neo-scholasticism articulated the faith in series of abstract concepts and propositions presented as absolute, ahistorical and immutable.

Father Schillebeeckx found alternative intellectual resources in modern phenomenology, with its meticulous attention to the actual experience of consciousness. And by studying Aquinas in his medieval context, he recovered a Thomism that expounded the presence and mystery of God in far less rationalistic and conceptual ways than did its neo-scholastic versions.

Of course, a lot of these thoughts are rather broad generalizations. But for me, they articulate again that, in many ways, the Catholicism of the pre-Vatican II Church was not all that old. Such things as frequent Communion, Gregorian chant, militant reactionary social teaching, and Baltimore Catechism-style formulations of the faith were just as much a product of modernity and its scholarship as the thought of Loisy or the public services of Taizé.

I recently finished Fr. Alvaro Calderón’s book, La Lámpara bajo el Celemín, and without going into too much detail about this polemical book, his main contention about the magisterium after Vatican II is that it ceases to use the weight of previous doctrinal declarations since it is tainted with liberal ideology. In theory, for Fr. Calderón, an overactive magisterium is a good thing. Thus, all of the “reactionary” modern phenomena such as restored chant and frequent Communion are good things since the “real” magisterium (not infected with liberalism) says they are good things. The bad stuff, such as ecumenism, the new canon law, religious liberty, and collegiality are bad since these are examples of the magisterium abdicating its real authority in the name of dialogue. A fine distinction, perhaps with a real difference.

I can’t really say that I buy this explanation 100%, but I find myself too confused by modern Catholicism to discount it. Even if the Catholicism now advocated by what we know as “traditionalists” is not as old as, say, 1850, it sounds a lot more authoritative than the stuff that comes out of the Vatican these days. At the end of the day, one has to form one’s conscience based on solid principles, and not the mood of the moment. In other words, one must be able to separate Faith from fad. Theology of the body, collegiality, “the Church as communion” (whatever that means), “separated brethren”, “Eucharist as synaxis of the People of God”, etc., all of these sound like some P.R. campaigns devised by slick ad men. I do not think that they can command unconditional assent, nor do I think that they were meant to. To think otherwise is to misread their true meaning, and would be the equivalent of trying to translate Cicero using a Spanish grammar book. “Traditionalist Catholicism” may not be that old, but it certainly sounds more serious to me.


Another recent New York Times article speaks of the trend of considering almost all modern popes saints. Here are the highlights:

In fact, conclaves have often looked for a pope who could govern firmly and defend the church in a dangerous world because that’s what a pope usually had to do. But in modern times, as popes became, first, “prisoners of the Vatican” after the unification of Italy in 1870, and then globetrotting media stars a century later, they also became the universal face of Catholicism. “Before that, most Catholics would be hard pressed to name the pope and almost none would know what he looked like,” said Christopher Bellitto, a church historian at Kean University in Union, N.J. “After 1870, with cheap printing and his prisoner-of-the-Vatican status, the pope’s face became recognizable and a rallying point for those who wanted to see the world as standing against the church.”

This “papalization” of the church means that every pope must now be seen as a holy man, indeed the holiest man in the church, even if there are pressing issues of governance that would require more savvy than piety. Although John Paul II is a lock for sainthood, serious questions about his administration of the church are emerging as the clergy sexual abuse scandals reveal how he neglected the mundane but critical tasks of being pope.

I have expressed such sentiments here before, and I have to reiterate that I don’t know why more people don’t have this in mind when thinking of the modern papacy. Perhaps it has to do a lot with our own romanticized visions of holiness: a sort of bookish adolescent ecstasy with lots of sighs and the flutter of angels’ wings. On the other hand, I can very well see pictures of the Pope next to statues of Jesus Malverde, Gauchito Gil, or even Santa Muerte on some bizarre “folk” altar. He belongs among the other members of the pantheon of popular sanctity.

One thing is for sure: charisma used to be contrary to holiness in many parts of the Church. Today, it would seem, it is the sine qua non of sanctity. But we live in a society that loves noise and not silences, and that is what we get.



6 responses

31 10 2011
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25 01 2010

Thank you, The Shepherd. That’s exactly what I was thinking while reading this post. It seems like “the bad stuff” is whatever one personally judges to be bad for whatever reason… then “the good stuff” would be anything that “sounds more serious to me.” Very subjective language in that last phrase.

21 01 2010
The Shepherd

“The bad stuff, such as ecumenism, the new canon law, religious liberty, and collegiality are bad since these are examples of the magisterium abdicating its real authority in the name of dialogue. A fine distinction, perhaps with a real difference.”

I don’t think I’m convinced either. This leads to a odd exercise of having to sift through piles of Catholicism and decide what is and isn’t Catholic on an individual basis.

20 01 2010

And ironically, Alexander VI showed a greater concern for orthodoxy than any of the popes of my lifetime. If I had to choose between the Borgia pope and any of the pontiffs who reigned since the year I was born (1961), I would go with Alexander VI any time. (Despite the cult that is grown up around him among “conservative” Catholics, thje jury is still out on BXVI.)

20 01 2010
The Shepherd

Alexander VI was epically gangsta.

20 01 2010

Alexander VI blew his chances by being born at the wrong time – he should have been a 20th century pope!

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